2020 Telecommunicator of the Year – Critical Incident – Mary Valerio

2020 Telecommunicator of the Year – Critical Incident – Mary Valerio

During the early morning hours of 05/12/20, a female had called 911 from her cell phone.  She dialed the number and set the phone down, leaving an open line to 911, she knew this was her only chance as the situation with her boyfriend continued to escalate. In the background of this open line, the call receiver heard a female pleading for her life while a male cussed and demoralized her, telling her he would kill her.

The cell phone did not provide an exact address. The CAD event was entered at the phase-two cell location. One of the responding officers was able to check a local computer for previous contacts with the cellular number and ran a driver’s check on an associated female’s name. This driver’s return matched an address near the phase-two location of the 911 call. A responding officer responded to that location. Upon arrival, the officer reported he could hear a female “gasping and screaming” from outside the door and that he was going to force the door. What the officer found on the other side was a male subject actively stabbing his girlfriend with a knife.  Once the officer diverted the male’s attention away from his girlfriend, the male threw the knife and engaged the officer in a fight.  The officer was eventually able to subdue the subject and take him into custody.

The female was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for multiple stab wounds. She did survive her critical injuries and was eventually released from the trauma center. The male suspect was booked into the Kitsap County jail on attempted Murder 1 for this incident.

What can we say, “There’s just Something About Mary!” This gal has it all. When you want a team to come together, it is not always about discussing the job that helps them feel like they are part of the group. At any given moment, Mary can bust out in tune, talk the celebrity gossip, discuss the clues from the current season of the Masked Singer and figure out exactly who the Monster or the Thingamajig is. She can talk the Tiger King, Downton Abbey, Bridgerton, or long-ago episodes of Friends or The Office. She just has this uncanny ability to bring people together through all different types of genre and discussion. She seems to always be in-the-know of regular life.

When it comes to the 911 job, Mary is the person you look to for strength, encouragement, telling it like it is, a reality check, and overall, the direction the team needs to head. She is a realist. If someone yells out, they need someone to help with a phone call, Mary is dialing the number before they even finish their request. Although typically, no one gets the chance to holler out as Mary is already aware someone needed help and is performing the associated helpful task before being asked. While she has her own time off the floor occasionally to work on supervisory tasks, if the center starts getting overwhelmed with calls or a radio needs to be split tandem, Mary heads out from her desk with her headset and plugs in to the nearest empty console. She does so again, without being asked because she monitors what’s happening from her desk even when she isn’t working on the floor. She demonstrates what it means to be looking out for your people ‘all the time!’

She volunteers for projects to help with the workload of other supervisory members. She can be frequently heard asking if she can help in these situations, even if she only has one free minute to breathe herself. If she sees or hears of an employee struggling with performance, even if not one of her assigned employees, Mary will find every activity, policy, tool she can to help that employee develop their skills and build confidence.

A great strength about Mary is her tenured knowledge to help develop new leaders within the organization. She organically is seen as a mentor and will gladly stop what she is doing to answer questions, review documentation for grammar and accuracy, and pass along what she learned as to why she gave you the feedback she did. She does so without the person feeling like they are being managed, just feeling like she had your back to help you be successful. Just another example of her teamwork and quest to have everyone work together and her intrinsic need to create strong future leaders of our center!

During her tenure, Mary has held many different positions. She has worked as a Primary Call Receiver, a Law Enforcement and Fire Dispatcher, an Acting Lead Dispatcher, a Supervisor, and an Operations Manager for a bit of time. As she has worked her way up through the ranks throughout all these positions, what she has learned along the way makes her quite the knowledgeable Supervisor. Given she is a supervisor, most of the time she would be filling this role on the dispatch floor. However, we can have multiple different Supervisors in the room at one time. Mary just looks for what is needed of her when she arrives for shift. If another Supervisor wants to work a radio to keep their skills in check, Mary will Supervise for the night. If there is an open radio and someone is already down to Supervise, Mary sets her stuff down at the open console and sets up for that channel. She pretty much just goes where she is needed without complaint. Occasionally, we will have a position where a certified dispatcher is needed to call receive for the night. While most dispatchers will shy away from call taking (yes, you all know who you are!) Mary doesn’t mind and sees this as an opportunity to keep up on that core performance of her job no matter her title.

Mary picks up more than her fair share of overtime to help lighten the load of mandates on our staff. While she is also required to work overtime, even as a Supervisor, the amount of overtime she works is insane and is just another example of displaying her desire to always do what’s best for the team and our personnel.

On the occasion another Supervisor will be on vacation or on extended leave, it’s not uncommon for Mary to volunteer to help with their workload in their absence. She has a wealth of knowledge she does not hoard and is willing to share for the betterment of all parties involved. If the Supervisor is already out on leave, no worries, Mary just handles whatever came up in-the-moment, and has it wrapped up with a pretty red bow prior to the Supervisor returning.  This is just her work ethic and why I feel she continually goes above and beyond to help others.

Lastly, Mary has been a huge influence shaping my career in this organization. I can tell you I have stolen many of my “What works” with my own subordinates from things I’ve seen or watched Mary do. I am not the only person who has tried to emulate with my own team some of what Mary does on a daily basis.  While it was not her assignment to develop me in my current Training Coordinator role, I have turned to her for advice on many occasions while in this position. I’ve asked, “what would you do here, how would you go about getting this done, etc.?” Mary has always stopped what she was doing and given me many different options to think about or to consider while allowing me to come to the decision on my own. One of her best character traits is to play devil’s advocate. She has encouraged me to consider all sides, paths, options, prior to forming a conclusion on which direction I need to utilize. She can take what she is passionate about and still hear what an opposing opinion might be and figure out how to make something work amongst both sides.

In her tenure, Mary has developed many personal friendships with our Users. She is the type of person you are drawn to when sitting in a room with strangers because she radiates inviting and welcoming with her demeanor, smile, mannerisms, and her ability to connect with people even if not related to Public Safety. She can hold conversations with complete strangers and find a way to connect with them. She has participated as a member of several committees through the years that have user agency personnel as members. She is professional yet approachable when representing Kitsap 911.

She has received many “thanks” from our users for her ability to manage high priority incidents, making tapes, setting up emphasis nights, and handling tasks for our users. Whatever they needed she completed for them and they continually voice their appreciation to her.

Mary has solid supervisory skills.  Her previous experience and skill with employee interactions, writing performance evaluations, and monitoring employee performance make her an asset to our operations group.  While she has a heavy workload, she complete tasks timely and accurately. She asks questions when needed to help ensure she is handling processes in the same manner as other supervisors.  She is proactive whenever possible.  She takes action quickly when dealing with employee performance concerns and she is invested in employee development.  She challenges employees to do better than just meets standard and she receives positive results.  

Mary is the head of the scheduling group for Kitsap 911 operations.  This is a HUGE task.  Recently the other long-term member left the group.  Mary took on even more work to complete the quarterly schedule preparation process.  After completing the process a few times, she came forward with ideas to improve the process and make it less complicated and time consuming.  The guild and management agreed with her recommendations and the changes were implemented in 3rd quarter 2020. Mary also handled the annual shift bidding and annual leave processes for 2021.  Annual leave bidding is complicated due to the associated rules. She completed all rounds with zero errors.  We have added three new members to the scheduling group to assist with the workload.  Mary is training each on the processes.  Her knowledge of the schedule is impeccable. 

Mary continues to maintain her dispatch and call taking skills. Regardless the incident she remains calm, accurately relays and documents information, and ensure all tasks are completed timely.  In October 2020, she received KUDOS for her assistance on a childbirth event. She provided direction, encouragement, and support to the caller who was more than panicked about the situation. This was her first baby delivery in her 20 years on the job. 

Mary is an instructor for our primary call receiver academy. She covers CAD, one of the most important learning topics of the academy that spans over several days.  She received recognition from the facilitator for her detailed instruction and her instructing style.  The students praised her ability to teach to different learning styles and ensure all students understanding.  

The past year, as with numerous years before that, Mary was a standout employee.

In this industry, we can never voice to Telecommunicators enough, “always follow your mission statements and organizational values, the job is about best product out the door!” This is Mary’s mantra and has been since she was hired. Routinely, she is heard flexing her voice to callers of all ages, expressing kindness with behavioral health callers, angry callers, and even with someone who might be less than kind to her on the phone. One example of this was when Mary processed a citizen complaint regarding how an event was handled and why they were asked so many questions. This citizen happened to be suffering from mental health issues and had continuously called in to the 911 center for several hours using less than kind words towards the call takers and overall was less than pleasant. We can all picture what this. Now picture, you are the Supervisor and need to investigate the complaint they have now brought against your call takers. Mary reviewed the calls; found that some of the call takers might have chosen a different tone to speak with him, which ‘might’ have not escalated his anger as much. She called the man back, explained her process for review and the feedback she was providing to employees. This is the good part, not only did she have a great conversation with this man, she was able to additionally educate him as to why the call takers had been pushing for information. By the end of her call with him, he was so thankful and appreciative for the information that the aggressive calls stopped.

Most agencies have some type of policy in place for handling open line cellular calls or cellular hang-up events. In our agency, when we have open cellular calls, if there is no problem heard with an open line, we hang-up, make a callback, and then if we reach voicemail, close the event. If we have an open call where there is a definite problem, we change the event type to an unknown problem and start working to locate the parties involved.

However, as you are all aware, not every open line call is easily identified as a problem. Sometimes only faint voices are heard but one cannot tell if there is truly a problem. In these cases, a good amount of agencies allow the call taker to make a judgement decision on how far the call taker needs to process the event, meaning, do they feel comfortable disconnecting and trying a callback and if no one is reached, simply closing the call? On the other hand, do they spend the time to start tracing the cellular number for location because they just are not sure enough?

On May 12, 2020, at 01:36 am, a female had one chance to make a 911 call and seek help without being able to communicate her needs. When you listen to the audio, you will not initially hear screaming, begging, anger, anything indicating there is definitely a problem. Yet, with Mary’s tenure and experience, she chose to leave the line open and continue listening. She just had “that feeling” something was off. As she continued to monitor what was occurring in the background, she began to hear a male cussing and yelling, threatening to kill someone and a woman begging and screaming for her life.  Mary never said another word in order to negate any further harm to the potential victim, which at this point, sounded like a female domestic violence victim. Mary documented everything she heard the male was saying. She captured the scene in her narrative documentation, painting a chilling act of violence. The responding officers were easily able to tell from Mary’s writing that this call was serious and there was no room to delay getting there and finding this female. Not only did Mary find an address associated with the cellular number, she kept the line open until officers arrived with the correct parties. After officers secured the scene, they requested aid for a female victim who had received multiple stab wounds, including to her head. She was airlifted and survived her injuries. The Sergeant called shortly after they cleared this scene, letting Mary know, “you saved a life tonight!” Not only was Mary the Shift Supervisor at the time, she handled this call, performed her Supervisory duties simultaneously, and completed the tape request for detectives prior to leaving shift for the night which was only about 40 minutes after this call.

This is just one call of the many Mary processes day in and day out to an exceptional quality of service. She is a high performer, organic leader, and her experience highlighted her knowledge and critical thinking skills during this event when she made the decision this call was not just another cellular pocket dial. Mary demonstrated what it means to go above and beyond in this instance to ensure there truly was no problem before discounting the call. Because of her decision to keep listening and trusting her gut, a woman is alive and a very angered man is behind bars and will not be able to hurt her again. Is this not the epitome of what we do? We save lives, Mary saved a life! Please select Mary Valerio as the 2020 Telecommunicator of the Year for Handling of a Critical Incident!

Mary just celebrated her 20th anniversary with our agency on March 6th! She has no previous public safety experience.

Kitsap 911 (CENCOM) is the primary PSAP for Kitsap County. We are a consolidated center and handle approximately 350,000 calls for service annually between Law Enforcement, Fire, and EMS events. We serve as the sole provider of dispatch services for seven Law Enforcement Agencies, six Fire Departments who run Fire & EMS services, and we dispatch for the Port Gamble Natural Resources Department and Kitsap Animal Control. In addition, we collaborate with the Department of Emergency Management who shares a portion of our facility.

We provide mutual aid services to Washington State Patrol, Jefferson, Mason, and Pierce Counties, as well as three military installations (Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, Naval Base Kitsap Bremerton, and Naval Base Kitsap Keyport.)

Our communications center is home to approximately 78 employees; this includes our Telecommunicators, Information Services Technicians, Radio Technicians, and Administrative Personnel.

At any given time, there are 2-3 Primary Call Receivers on shift, 3-4 Law Enforcement Dispatchers, 2-3 Fire & EMS Dispatchers, an Assistant Supervisor, and a Shift Supervisor working the dispatch floor. Additionally, we can have anywhere between 3-9 telecommunicator trainees on the floor learning how to become active and fully certified members of our industry.

Mary is a Shift Supervisor. She is responsible for managing and evaluating performance of all lead dispatchers, dispatchers, and call receivers. Her responsibilities include planning, organizing, and scheduling personnel. In addition to enforcing and implementing all policies, she ensures the center is running efficiently and maintains awareness of all activities occurring in the center when she is on duty. Mary works closely with management ensuring Kitsap 911 maintains excellent customer service to our citizens, user agencies, and each other during all phases of operations. She develops and delivers employee reviews, generates CAD reports, develops and implements long-term agency goals and projects that better our center and keep us up to date with technology and new industry trends. If this isn’t enough, Mary fields any citizen concerns about call handling, communicates with our users to investigate best practices for our dispatch procedures, and maintains her own call taking and dispatching skills so she is available at any time to cover a console if needed.