PARIS — The control room inside the Oxford County Regional Communications Center is cool, dimly lit and utterly calm as dispatchers quietly answer frantic calls. 

Steve Cordwell, a 25-year veteran, is staring at six screens that could give emergency responders much of the information needed to save someone’s life. One lists the caller’s address and telephone number and another pinpoints their location. Yet another, the one he has not and will not engage with on this call, alerts the fire, police and ambulance services in Oxford County at the push of a button. 

Cordwell, who has a body of a weight lifter in his later years and has a long background in emergency response that recalls the years before 911, is talking in an undertone barely audible over the murmur of computer fans and a mounted television showing the history of the American Civil War.

Multitasking and tuning out unhelpful things are keys to fielding calls for what will turn out to be some of the worst moments in people’s lives, Cordwell said.

“Their could be a suicide,” he said. “We learn to shut it out. People who are new, who are having a stressful moment, we’ll tell them to take a break, though you can’t always, and just have to work through it. Some don’t make it.”

Earlier this year, dispatchers at the center received recognition from the state for their work locating a stolen truck in an incident that led to a shootout with police in Mexico last summer.

April marks National Telecommunications Week, and Geffrey Inman, the center’s deputy director, said the dedicated men and women here deserve all the praise. 

“They go from a horrible call to something less severe and never miss a beat,” Inman said. 

On a typical day, any one of the three-man crews working can field 30 calls, though on weekends and during the busy season in the summer and fall, those figures can skyrocket, Inman said.

Last year, the center received approximately 24,700 calls, the sixth-busiest call center in the state. Calls vary by season and weather, alternating periodically, but generally match the geography and demographics of the county: injuries on camp roads during the summer give way to hunting accidents, and then the ski slopes. A steady stream of calls, according to James Miclon, the center’s director, are for medical attention for the elderly. 

“The facility is the nucleus for every emergency,” Miclon said. 

That nucleus twitches like a nerve when a call arrives. While one worker will ask basic questions, another simultaneously monitors the call and, if necessary, alerts police. A third desk covers fires. In situations that warrant it, duties can change and in uncommon situations, simultaneously overlap. 

Just because it doesn’t sound like dispatchers are in a rush, doesn’t mean they’re not in a hurry, Miclon said. 

“A lot of people holler at the dispatchers that they just want the help to get there,” he said. “They don’t see the other worker in the room, on the other screens, sending it out there.”

Not everyone is cut out for the job, according to Keith Tilsley, a 15-year veteran. Dispatchers are trained for anything from navigating parents through a birth to helping police track suspects during a foot chase. Putting a new hire through a six-month training course costs about $15,000. 

Beyond the money, however, patience and fortitude are basic requirements. Tilsley describes the job as the forensic account of every overt, unhappy event in the county. Dealing with it requires a kind of distance from it. 

He said he remembers handling calls for a double murder in Rumford, a plane crash in Bethel, and staying on the phone with a 5-year old girl as she watched the rape and murder of her grandmother. 

Tilsley said the key is not taking the memories home. 

“The phone doesn’t stop ringing in here. You can’t take calls personally,” he said. 

Bill Daniels, who joined in 2002 after a long career as an emergency responder, put it another way. 

“One minute we’re sitting here, the next we’re dispatching multiple towns to a structure fire. It’s zero to 100 in an instant.” 

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