Often tough and unpredictable, the job of an emergency 911 telecommunicator is not for everyone. But it’s exactly the kind of work Cheryl Kelley loves — even in the most anguishing times — because she knows she’s helping people in trouble.
“Once you really get into it, you see how rewarding it is,” said Kelley, a senior 911 telecommunicator for the Houston Emergency Center.
Despite having been on the job for nine years, nothing prepared Kelley for a call she received from a distraught child, whose parents had died violently at home.
“It was heart breaking,” Kelley said. “I knew I had to pull myself together in order to help.”
“The more that I talked with the child and was trying to calm the child down, the more detail I got as to what was going on,” Kelley said.
During that time, Kelley was able to get an address from the child and dispatched that information to emergency personnel.
“Her experience as a call taker was supplemented by her heart as a grandmother,” said Sharon Brown, a senior supervisor for HEC. “She kept the child distracted and talking until emergency personnel arrived.”
“It was just one of those things I didn’t expect,” Kelley said of the call.
“We are grateful for Ms. Kelley’s professionalism and reassurance in the midst of tragedy,” Brown said. “She exhibited customer service at its finest, not just doing her job but performing with excellence and empathy.”
Answering calls for help from residents isn’t the only way Kelley serves her community. For the past 18 years, Kelley has volunteered at Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, teaching Sunday school classes to children in first through fifth grade.
“We have a curriculum and we just try and teach them life lessons through the Bible curriculum,” Kelley said. “It’s good.”
At least once a year, Kelley volunteers with the Greater Harris County 9-1-1 Emergency Network, which hosts various public safety and health fairs throughout Harris County.
“You can meet a lot of resistance when we ask for addresses or street names,” Kelley said of some of the incoming 9-1-1 calls she receives. “We try to break it down and clarify to the public why we need this information.”
When natural disasters strike the city, Kelley may work 12-hours shifts and stay at the Houston Emergency Center facility. She was on call when Harvey’s waters flooded the Houston area in August, leaving thousands of residents trapped in their homes.
“You just try to do the best that you can for the people that contact you,” Kelley said of the rescue calls she fielded during the storm. “You also know, as the weather gets worse, there are some people you will not be able to help.
“I’m glad to be of service and hopefully I have helped someone,” Kelley said of her role with the city.
She urges others to take advantage of volunteering opportunities in the community.
“It kind of pulls you into it,” Kelley said of volunteering. “The more you do it, the more you’ll like it.”
She believes when you give back, you help break down community barriers.
“When you start working with people and dealing with people, you find out their story,” she said. “It sounds like we’re all different, but we really are all the same.”