When you enter the Lee County 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatch Center in Southwest Florida (USA), call sign “Lee Control,” you will hear music. Most would call our music chaotic noise because of phones ringing, people talking, computer keyboards clicking, and odd tones coming from small black boxes. Those sounds may seem like chaos, but our Lee Control family is unique. We are musical conductors or maestros, turning these sounds into a beautiful symphony that saves lives. Lee Control is a secondary 911 Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) receiving calls for medical and fire response from the four primary law enforcement PSAPs in Lee County.
Lee Control emergency dispatchers, just like musical conductors, guide and instruct callers (our audience) using Emergency Medical Dispatch and Emergency Fire Dispatch Protocols to complete a musical score. The radio emergency dispatcher distributes the musical score to the orchestra, who are the paramedics and firefighters, and they, in turn, use their instruments to create a magnificent melody to save a life.
As a Lee Control emergency dispatcher, our technique in directing the audience and orchestra is motivated by the ballad, or situation. We set the tempo in hopes of bringing each musical score to a positive completion. The tempo can be slow, fast, or even supersonic and change quickly. We inspire our callers to move at our tempo whether it is performing chest compressions or checking a pulse. We train our ears to hear every note said by the caller or road crew. We never miss a beat as we move our right hand over the keyboard, our left hand answers the phone, and our foot keys up the radio. We end every performance, a 12-hour shift, exhausted but exhilarated with the knowledge that together we created a masterpiece of music.
Our dispatching ensemble came from humble beginnings.
Lee Control was established in October 1971 to dispatch the Lee County Fire Control District that was made up of three fire stations.1 There was only one emergency dispatcher on a 12-hour shift, using pen and paper and working out of long forgotten military living quarters at Page Field Airport.2 The United States Army Air Force used these quarters during World War II to train B-24 bomber pilots as they patrolled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico looking for enemy submarines.3
We began in modest, unassuming surroundings with awe-inspiring history.
In 1972, Lee County purchased a private ambulance company and Lee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was born, adding to the Lee Control ensemble.4 As the county grew, Lee Control and Lee County EMS began looking for new accommodations large enough to house both departments and protect them during hurricanes. The perfect location was a bomb shelter built for the Civil Defense Organization in the early 1970s due to the Cold War era. The building’s original intent was to house the local government following a nuclear attack. If it could withstand a nuclear attack, it could surely withstand a hurricane. Shortly after moving into the bomb shelter, the Civil Defense Organization developed into Lee County Department of Public Safety made up of Emergency Management, EMS, and us, Lee Control.5
The year Lee Control began, the county population was 117,855 and growing quickly.6 In 1983, Southwest Florida Regional Airport was completed and our growth increased even more.7
Lee Control kept up with the increasing population and two emergency dispatchers per shift soon became four. Prior to 1987, all Lee County agencies received emergency calls via seven digit phone lines. The county began the research to add the 911 system and found there was Enhanced 911 (E-911) on the horizon. We decided to wait for the new system and Enhanced 911 arrived in Lee County on April 7, 1987.8
Certain years and events in Lee Control’s history stand out and 1994 is one of them. Lee Control emergency dispatchers put away the pen and paper and began using a CAD system. Since we dispatch for EMS and fire departments only, Intergraph Corporation designed a CAD specifically to meet our needs. We now had six emergency dispatchers during the day and five during the night.
Early in 1997, Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) were installed in the ambulances. Lee Control emergency dispatchers had to only activate station tones over the radio, read off the address, and with the touch of a button, we sent all information to the crews without having to say another word. We felt we would be obsolete and worried our skills were being replaced by a computer.
In 1999, Automatic Vehicle Locators (AVLs) were installed in ambulances and integrated with the CAD system. This innovation ensured we were sending the closest ambulance to every emergency. The fire departments began following suit and installing MDTs and AVLs in their vehicles. With all the upgrades, we knew we were creating a masterpiece.
In 2007, Lee Control began the process to become a medical Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) with the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™). In March 2009, we achieved our goal. Shortly after reaching our first ACE, we began working on achieving our accreditation for Emergency Fire Dispatch (EFD), and in October 2012, we became a dual ACE (medical and fire). We are very proud to be in a small, elite group of 32 agencies around the world who are dual ACE accredited.
Another amazing honor was having our Lee Control emergency dispatchers recognized and receiving the prestigious Phoenix Award from Lee County Public Safety for saving a life. The award honors the coordinated efforts of first responders from local fire departments, Lee County EMS, Emergency Dispatch, and the Sheriff’s Office to successfully resuscitate a patient in cardiac arrest.
Lee County is 785 square miles with a year-round population estimate of over 739,000.9,10 In 2017, we had an additional 1.3 million visitors during the winter months, and for the entire year we had 4.8 million people visit Lee County.11, 12 We answered 233,831 calls in 2017.13 Today, we have 36 emergency dispatchers. We dispatch for 48 ambulances, 19 fire districts, and 7 specialty divisions. We monitor a minimum of 24 radio channels including the Air Traffic Control Towers for Page Field Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport.
It has been my honor and privilege to work at Lee Control for 27 years, and I have been lucky enough to see what makes Lee Control so unique. Our people and the culture we inspire is what makes us not only unique but also exceptional! We are not only dedicated to our jobs and the citizens of Lee County, but we are dedicated to each other, each person giving more than they get in return. We encourage a culture of friendship, kindness, compassion, acceptance, determination, and most of all, respect for each other. We encourage each other to dream big. We laugh together. We cry together. We trust each other. We have each other’s backs at work and in life. We rejoice in each other’s accomplishments and support each other during difficult times. There are 39 exceptional people in our Lee Control family.
We don’t just celebrate our unique center. We celebrate our unique family, making beautiful music together every day!
1Jim Geren, Lee County Public Safety, retired
2Roger Desjarlais, County Manager, Lee County, Florida
3 “Page Field.” Wikipedia. 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Page_Field (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
4 “History.” Lee County Southwest Florida. 2018. http://www.leegov.com/publicsafety/emergencymedicalservices/history (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
5 “Florida Division of Emergency Management.” Wikipedia. 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Division_of_Emergency_Management (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
6 “Total County Population: April 1, 1970–2030.” Office of Economic & Demographic Research. 2010; August. http://edr.state.fl.us/Content/population-demographics/data/Pop_0401_c.pdf (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
7 “Southwest Florida International Airport.” Wikipedia. 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southwest_Florida_International_Airport (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
8 “E9-1-1.” Lee County Southwest Florida. 2018. http://www.leegov.com/publicsafety/e911 (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
9 “Lee County, Florida.” Wikipedia. 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_County,_Florida (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
10 “QuickFacts: Lee County, Florida.” United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/leecountyflorida#viewtop (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
11 “Winter 2017 Visitor Profile and Occupancy Analysis.” Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. 2017; May 11. https://www.leevcb.com/media/27556/winter-2017-visitor-profile-and-occupancy-report_5-8-2017.pdf (NEED ACCESSED DATE)
12 “2017 Annual Visitor Profile and Occupancy Analysis (January-December).” Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. 2018; Feb. 28. https://www.leevcb.com/media/30082/2017-visitor-profile-and-occupancy-analysis.pdf (NEED ACCESSED DATE).
13 Chief Casey Allo, Program Manager – Lee Control, Lee County, Public Safety