NORMAN — Cindy Howard based her career choice on how she could best help others.
She considered becoming a nurse or something in the medical field. She just wanted to help.
Then, in 1989, Howard began working for the Prague Police Department. The police chief asked her if she’d ever considered being a dispatcher.
“After thinking about it, I decided I could help people doing this, if I could handle the different types of calls I would have to take and handle the multitasking I would have to do,” Howard said.
Today, Howard, 47, of Meeker, is an emergency communications supervisor for the city of Norman. She recently was named 2014 Dispatcher of the Year by the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.
Her duties in Norman include answering 911 calls and dispatching the appropriate emergency services. She is a training officer and instructor who develops new recruits. She also is a Criminal Justice Information Services compliance officer and an emergency medical dispatch quality assurance officer.
Everything goes back to her original desire, what she wanted most in a job.
“I truly like helping people and this is definitely a good way to do it,” Howard said.
When a panicking father calls to say his wife is about to give birth but the ambulance hasn’t had time to get there, her training kicks in.
“You provide the pre-arrival instructions you are trained to give,” she said, “and at the end, the baby is crying, Mom and Dad are crying, and then the responders arrive to assist with transporting everyone.
“It is truly a blessing for me to be able to do this job and to have been able to do it for the past 25 years.”
As with any occupation, there are challenges.
Howard said one of the biggest is not being able to spend holidays, birthdays and school events with her family.
Others stem from the nature of the work.
“Most are routine calls and easy, non-emotional callers and quick to process,” she said. “The emotional callers or frightened callers that you are on the phone with until responders get on scene are the harder calls, because you build a bond with them while you are talking or just listening to background noises. You are trying to convince them and yourself that everything is going to work out and everyone will arrive in time, when in reality you don’t know if that will happen or not.”
For example, there was the time Howard took a call from a child who was in her house with her mother and a male, Howard said.
“The male had killed Mom and the child was hiding in the closet thinking she would be next,” Howard said. “She did an amazing job providing me with names and descriptions of the male and the vehicle. I listened to her cry because she was so scared for her life, the loss of her mother, and then again when I could tell her help was there and that the police had caught the man so he wasn’t coming back to hurt her.”
As a dispatcher — this goes back to why she loves the job — Howard wants to treat callers like family.
Sure, there are some who call every day and others who are upset, even terrified.
But a dispatcher should “show them the same respect that you would want someone to show one of your family members,” she said.
“This job really does make a difference and people really do appreciate us,” Howard said, “even the ones that are calling in yelling at us for something completely out of our control. When they call, they are in a heightened state of something, either panic, fear, excitement etc.; this is not the way they would normally act if you were to meet them on the streets.
“It is a true honor and privilege to do the job that I do.”