Jace Poulin and Brad Timberlake. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Direvtor Brad Timberlake and Jace Poulin seated in truck. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“911, what is your emergency?” We hear this phrase on drama shows portraying life emergencies. When the actor calls 911, the call is answered, and help magically arrives. However, as this week’s subject of my series on Wellness for First Responders quips, “Rescuing is not a TV show.”

Brad Timberlake, Communications Director for Franklin County Regional Communications Center, escorts me into “dispatcher central.” It’s a dark-ish room with hideous green walls. He introduced me to Johanna Cullenberg and Everett Spaulding, sitting at their desks in front of several monitors.

Each monitor shows a screen with information to assist the dispatchers in providing safety and security for the public. A large screen plays various scenes on one wall before the monitors. Today, an eagle is taking center stage. At other times, it may be a fireplace or something similar.

Brad answers my questions, often referencing his team and their expertise. There’s nothing magical here. It’s a well-orchestrated system with skilled personnel, backup communication in case the cell towers go down, and, when needed, a flip file with alphabetical emergency protocols to follow.

I had an immediate warm respect for the dispatchers. They enjoy their job and meeting the public. Johanna beams brightly as she tells me that a short while ago, she delivered a baby. Suddenly, a call comes in. Without missing a beat, Everett spins back to his keyboard and monitors.

I hear him calmly asking assessment questions and giving instructions on what to do while awaiting paramedics. Johanna turns back to her monitor and keyboard and assists Everett. Amid that connection, another call comes in. Johanna takes the call: Brad, ever alert, slides into the empty chair beside him and in dispatcher mode. I’m astonished at how smoothly the operation progresses.


The State of Maine funds the Communication Center, and like other areas of Emergency Services, is understaffed, partly due to budget cuts. Dispatchers used to be a stepping stone; they are now a specialty. Brad began working elsewhere as a dispatcher until the opportunity arrived for the Communications Director position.

As with other EMS programs, budgets do not include wellness programs such as meditation, exercise, retreats, etc. Brad tells me he “encourages his team to get outside and take breaks. It’s tempting to work overtime, but I encourage them to take days off.” He is constantly considering what he can provide for his team’s wellness.

I pick up on his genuineness. “I used to assist a Sheriff’s office with “elder assist,” a program for elderly people. If they didn’t check in, we checked on them. There was one time when this elderly gentleman called in. He didn’t want to live anymore. I talked with him for 45 minutes until assistance arrived. We talked about fishing, hunting, 4-wheeling, and other stuff. I don’t know what happened after, but these better stories keep me going.”

“I want to educate the world about what we do. The system works; I’ve seen the success. EMS is crucial. People don’t see who is behind the phone when they call. They’re scared. We’re the voice of reason, the help when you don’t know what you need. However, as Johanna mentioned, we must remember that their emergency is not ours. We don’t get closure. Stories of an incident don’t mention our part.”

Brad is from the Livermore Falls area and is married with two children. He doesn’t share the bad stories with them. He finds a way to say, “It’s been a long day at work,” and his wife gives him space to recover. The “sandpaper side” is shared in debriefs.

Brad and Jace Poulin, Dispatcher Supervisor, have begun the podcast “Responder Resiliency Initiative.” (https://linktr.ee/ResponderResiliency?utm_source=linktree_profile_share) It can be found on Apple, Spotify, and YouTube. They want to spread awareness of mental health for first responders and to get rid of the stigma that “you have to have a face that doesn’t show feelings or hurt.”

With their combined 25-plus years of knowledge and expertise, they can “turn education into something.” Their target audience is all First Responders, including nursing and the military. “PTSD is PTSD. It doesn’t matter if you serve at home or away at war. Parents are first responders. The child injured at home is first attended to by their parent.”

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