Every day in the Fulton Sun newsroom, voices crackle from a tiny speaker on a police scanner. These voices become like background music — sometimes ignored, sometimes exciting, but often, oddly familiar.
One of those distant voices belongs to Amber Gann, who started working as a dispatcher at Callaway County's emergency operations center in 2007. She was promoted last week to interim director of 911 Joint Communications. Michelle Kidwell remains emergency management director.
It's funny how Gann has used her voice to build a career. She started off wanting to be a singer, she said. But from the start, she's found a place among the first responders of Callaway County.
"This career field is actually a giant family," she said. "The officers are like my family and the dispatchers in there. We're all just family."
Gann was born in Jefferson City and raised in New Bloomfield .
"My dad was in law enforcement in Callaway County," she added. "He worked for almost every department."
Kelley J. Heather served for 14 years as an officer for the Fulton Police Department.
"He was the first full-time officer in Holts Summit," Gann added. "Then he was chief in New Bloomfield."
Heather also was a local LEO in Auxvasse, and even worked for Callaway County as a corrections officer and — like his daughter — a 911 dispatcher.
The last call for Heather came Dec. 10.
"He passed away (three) months ago," Gann said. "He was only 51."
Gann didn't take long to follow in her father's footsteps. She graduated in 2006 from New Bloomfield High School and went to college in Sedalia for two years.
"I actually majored in music," she added.
At the age of 20, Gann became a 911 dispatcher while finishing her degree, getting a bachelor's in history.
"I really like everything," she said of historical time periods, "but military history really interests me. I really like the Civil War era and World War II."
Her father encouraged Gann to look beyond singing for a career, she said.
"You know when you're 20 years old, you still love your parents but you don't do what they want your to do," she added. "I wanted to be a singer, and Dad said, 'You still need a job.' I came here and I absolutely just fell in love with it. You can see, I never left."
The glass window
Callaway County's dispatch call center is in the basement of the sheriff's department. On a wall in Gann's office is a window overlooking the workroom.
On the glass of that window are stickers summing up the duties of those who answer the pleadings of people in distress.
"All Answerin.' Calm talkin.' Instruction givin.' Dispatcher."
At any given time, three dispatchers are on duty. They work with three full-time law enforcement agencies: The sheriff's officer, Fulton PD and Holts Summit Police Department. They also dispatch for two municipalities: New Bloomfield and Auxvasse. Plus eight fire departments and the Callaway County Ambulance District, which has three medic bases.
"So you figure you have three people required at a time," she said, adding dispatchers monitor radio traffic and answer all 911 and administrative calls.
One thinks about people sitting around huge consoles with bright screens wearing headphones and talking clearly and with patience. That hasn't really changed. Other stuff has, however.
"Dispatch has changed a lot since I came in, because of technology," Gann said.
In Feb. 2016, the EOS filled out 1,143 incident cards just for Fulton PD alone. That same year, the call center answered 83,792 calls.
"I don't think people generally realize how busy it is here," Gann said.
Dispatchers begin with a salary of $26,000 plus benefits. They are required to work at any time: weekends, holidays, overtime and shiftwork. They must be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or equivalent. And they must be able to type 35 words per minute.
There is room for advancement. Gann first spent three years as a dispatcher, then started moving up.
"I was the midnight shift supervisor for five years, then deputy director — and now this," she said of the interim director's job — one she hopes to make permanent. "That's my plan; that's my hope."
Both genders excel at the job, she added.
"One of our midnight shifts now is all male, and they love it," she added, laughing.
The job of a dispatcher is fast paced and takes extensive training. There always seem to be openings for communications operators.
"I think part of it is the intimidation," Gann said. "Most people worry about the stress. With this job, when people call us, it's almost like their lives are in our hands."
That's because often, they are. But dispatchers don't always learn how their jobs made a difference in those lives.
"When we hang up the phone, our part is over, and we don't always get the closure," Gann said. "It's tough."
She remembered one of her hardest calls.
"I helped deliver a baby (over the phone) and the baby wasn't breathing," Gann said. "I finally got closure a few days later."
Then there's how your look at life.
"Attitude plays a large part of this job," she said. "You have to be authoritative to get information that you need, but you're also their best friend. Sometimes in a fire, you maybe be the last person that (caller) ever speaks to. I always tell my dispatchers you never know what the situation is."
Some parts of the job are undeniably rewarding.
"As a dispatcher, the best part of the job was always knowing I made a difference," Gann said. "It's a good feeling to know you made a difference."
And then, again, it's the family feeling.
"The best part of my job now is the great employees I have, and watching them go through the same journey I went through," she said. "They may not know it, but I am insanely proud of all of them."
Even the callers add to the enjoyment of a dispatcher's job, according to Gann.
"You obviously get those difficult callers, but I appreciate them for making me learn how to handle things, and for keeping my life interesting," she said.
To learn more and to download an application, go online to: callawaycounty.org/jobs.