2021 Telecommunicator of the Year – Critical Incident – Nicole Burrell

2021 Telecommunicator of the Year – Critical Incident – Nicole Burrell

On the night of March 16, 2021, around 2045 Kitsap 911 received a 911 call about a recklessly driven vehicle going 60 to 70 mph in a 35-mph zone. Ten minutes later we received a call of a vehicle accident in the same area. The vehicle had missed a curve, gone off the road, hit a tree, and gone down into a ravine.  The caller heard the crash from his residence and went out to check what had happened.  He could hear an occupant of the vehicle screaming for help. Unbeknownst to the caller, there were three occupants in the vehicle that night. They were three local high school students who where out having a fun night. Unfortunately, they all lost their lives that night in this tragic accident that rocked the community.

Teamwork is one of Nicole’s strengths. She consistently demonstrates this every shift. Whether it be she is entering/modifying/verifying data for a coworker or making a phone call for someone, she is always willing to assist her team.  She also has great room awareness which allows her to jump in to assist without waiting to be asked. When she hears a dispatcher get caught up on a priority 911 call, she quickly jumps in to take over their radio.  This allows the team to provide the best service possible to the public and our member agencies. Doing the job right is important to Nicole. She willingly shares her knowledge with coworkers to help them when they need it and to help them expand their skills. She does this in a way that is supportive and helpful instead of overbearing. Nicole helps to build a team environment where everyone works to make each other better and Kitsap 911 better overall.

Nicole has only been working in Public Safety for 2.5 years. During that time, she has demonstrated that she is a natural for this job. She completed both call receiving and law enforcement dispatch training quickly and was chomping at the bit to move on to fire dispatch.  She has excelled at every level.  She is capable of working independently.  When faced with a new experience, she quickly evaluates the situation and takes appropriate action based on what she has learned and what is reasonable. Nicole is also aware of when to ask for assistance and seeks guidance from an appropriate source. Nicole is willing to work wherever she is needed without complaint.

Nicole is skilled at all consoles – call receiving, law, and fire dispatch.  In addition to the event she is being nominated for, Nicole has received numerous KUDOS that highlight her abilities in all disciplines of the job.

  • CPR save – A medic from the responding crew called the supervisor to provide KUDOS to Nicole.  The closest crew came from 10 minutes away. Nicole did a great job with this call. She got aid going and started providing instruction to them immediately. Her voice remained calm and professional, which isn’t easy with a CPR call. She stayed on the line and made sure they were continuing to do compressions at the proper rate, which helped the patient survive until aid could get there with the AED. That is the purpose of CPR, and it all came together during this call. The medic said that he had been doing the job for a long time and he had never witnessed a save happen with the closest unit so far from the patient and the time it took to get to the patient.   
  • Vehicle pursuit – A Deputy provided KUDOS for Nicole’s as the dispatcher of a vehicle pursuit. Several 911 calls were received regarding an erratic vehicle and its driver. Deputies eventually found the vehicle, and upon contact, the driver fled, resulting in a pursuit. Numerous deputies and supervisors responded to assist the deputy, who was alone in the pursuit. During the course of the pursuit, all the involved deputies, supervisors and assisting agency officers were broadcasting at the same time and nothing could be heard or made out as far as what was being said. This made communicating nearly impossible. Nicole handled this pursuit very well. She kept her composure, deciphered far more than what the field could understand, and broadcast clear information to keep units informed on the deputy’s location and, ultimately, the pursuit termination point.
  • Prowler – KUDOS from the 911 caller who called to report he was witnessing a prowler at his home that he was seeing though his Ring camera. After the 911 call, he called back to speak to the supervisor. He passed on his appreciation for the call receiver he spoke to because she did an outstanding job keeping him calm.  When the supervisor reviewed the call, she noted Nicole was empathetic and reassuring throughout the event.
  • 911 Hang up- Nicole received a 911 hang up call. When she called back, she noticed the female who answered seemed upset. Nicole continued to ask questions of the caller to try to draw more information out of her. The caller insisted that her child had been playing with the phone.  Nicole created a higher priority event than the standard 911 hang up call. Once on scene, law enforcement determined an assault had occurred and there was probable cause to arrest the male half for DV assault. An officer sent Nicole a KUDOS, “Huge thanks to whoever took that call. That was a good call. Lied about it being her child to protect her husband.”
  • Radio attentiveness- Nicole received a KUDOS from an officer for her work and attentiveness during a recent event, “I’m sure you hear this a lot. Your work (and others that helped) was appreciated. May not seem like much but it was.”

Nicole communicates effectively, both in writing and verbally. She provides thorough briefings when turning over a radio, ensuring that pending tasks are handled. She acclimates quickly to any shift and immediately becomes part of the group.  She easily interacts with those she works with, in person, on the phone, and on the radio. She participates in conversations on the floor and openly shares her viewpoints. Nicole is easy going. She does not overreact or get involved in drama. She is truly low maintenance! 

Whether working phones or a radio, she is attentive and focused.  She interacts with callers professionally. She flexes her approach as needed and appropriate.  When working a radio, she has an amazing ability to maintain an even tone regardless of what is being thrown at her.  You never hear stress or annoyance in her voice even when it might be warranted. 

When Nicole is at work, she is dedicated to her work. Work comes first and she stays in the zone to get the best product out the door.

In the last year Nicole has exceeded standards in all aspects of job performance at Kitsap 911.

  • Interpersonal conduct – Nicole maintains and encourages a positive work environment.
  • Dependability – Nicole arrives to work her scheduled shifts on time, she works her share of overtime, and she uses sick leave appropriately.
  • Accountability – A valued trait in an employee is accountability. When approached with an error, Nicole takes responsibility and identifies any corrective action needed. She learns from past mistakes and is able to apply feedback immediately, avoiding making the same mistake twice. She can also be counted on to bring errors to the supervisor’s attention.
  • Initiative – Nicole actively makes efforts to improve Kitsap 911 by helping whenever needed and sharing information to help others learn and grow.
  • Knowledge – Nicole possesses and shares sufficient knowledge to perform job duties and work with all Kitsap 911 groups, member agencies, and customers.
  • Skills and abilities – Nicole takes appropriate action in order to ensure safe, dependable, efficient and reliable outcomes. 
  • Quality of work – She performs duties to established standards and/or per policy. In the absence of established standards, she completes a task using critical thinking with Kitsap 911’s mission in mind.
  • Explain how the nominee(s) exemplify the “customer service” skills that often define how the calling public and public safety agencies dispatched perceive call taker and dispatchers.

Customer service in a 911 center is a bit tricky.  Balancing how to get information needed from a caller while flexing your approach is a skill that is learned and fine-tuned throughout your career. Nicole began her career at Kitsap 911 with an innate natural ability for customer service in our environment.  She is not too sugary sweet, nor is she cold and stern. On a routine call she is a great balance of polite and professional.  On priority calls with excited callers, she keeps their focus on her questions without sounding harsh or rude.  Nicole has a special knack for elderly and child callers. She is kind and understanding while helping them work through the situation they are dealing with. 

When dispatching, Nicole is focused on the job. She is professional and polite.  She does not let anything get in the way of that.  Nicole portrays herself and Kitsap 911 in a positive and professional manner in every interaction. 

Nicole answered the first 911 call from a neighbor who had heard the crash at 20:56:57. The male caller is understandably excited, talking quickly and out of breath. He relayed there was a vehicle down a ravine, into the trees and that someone was screaming. Nicole asked how far down the ravine the vehicle was and the caller said he could not see the vehicle. She entered a motor vehicle rescue (MVCR) event into CAD within 23 seconds. Nicole was also the FIRE 1 dispatcher at this time of this call. She immediately toned this event for a fire/EMS response while on the phone with the caller and then went on to ask questions of the caller about what he was seeing and hearing. The caller could hear the occupant yelling for help.  Nicole encouraged the caller to keep yelling back to her to let her know help was coming and to try to keep her awake. At one point, the caller questioned hesitantly if he should attempt to climb down the ravine. Nicole instructed him to not do anything to put himself in danger, letting him know numerous fire and law enforcement units were enroute. She provided him encouragement and support during the call when he explained how bad the scene looked and how terrible he felt. Nicole was on the line with the caller for six minutes and twenty-nine seconds until the first fire units arrived on scene at which point fire requested a TAC channel and she volunteered to take on the role of the FIRE 3 dedicated dispatcher.

In her role as the FIRE 3 dedicated dispatcher, she worked this event from 2107 to 2239. As the dedicated dispatcher Nicole’s duties changed. Her sole focus became this one event. Dedicated dispatchers are utilized during events with heightened responder safety concerns.  Nicole’s responsibilities were to stay focused on responder’s communications, to ensure everyone hears what they needed to hear. She was the conduit between every responder in the field that night and she did an amazing job of keeping everyone informed of what was happening. She kept accurate status of units, responded to radio traffic timely, and captured pertinent information in the CAD event. She had a break scheduled during the time that she was acting as the dedicated dispatcher and passed so she could continue to work this event without disruption. This is a testament to her commitment and desire to see this event through until the end.

A mass casualty incident does not happen often in our county, so this was her first exposure to an event of this magnitude. She demonstrated strong dispatch skills during her handling of this event specifically her multitasking, accuracy, timeliness, split ear, and teamwork.

This event was an excellent display of Nicole’s abilities and commitment to the job. She handled the workload exceptionally well. Kitsap 911 is proud to submit our nomination for Nicole Burrell as WA APCO-NENA Telecommunicator of the Year for a Critical Incident. Thank you for your consideration.

Nicole has been employed at Kitsap 911 since February of 2019. She has no previous public safety experience.

Kitsap 911 is the primary PSAP for Kitsap County, with a population of 297,000. We dispatch for seven law enforcement agencies and six fire agencies. Additionally, we dispatch for Port Gamble Natural Resources and Kitsap Animal Control. We have good relationships with and provide mutual aid for the Washington State Patrol, three local military bases (Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, Naval Base Kitsap Bremerton, and Naval Base Kitsap Keyport), as well as the four surrounding counties (King, Mason, Pierce, and Jefferson).  

The communications center is a second home to approximately 88 employees; this includes Information Services Technicians, Radio Technicians, and Administration. We collaborate with the Department of Emergency Management, which shares our facility. 

At any given time, there are as many as 3 Primary Call Receivers, 4 Law Enforcement dispatchers, 2 Fire & EMS dispatchers, an Assistant Supervisor, and a Shift Supervisor working the operations floor. 

Nicole is a fully qualified call receiver and police, fire, and EMS dispatcher. When working in this capacity she performs the critical public safety function of receiving and transmitting E (Enhanced) 911 telephone and radio emergency medical, fire, and law enforcement service calls. Using a computerized telephone system and sophisticated Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system Public Safety Telecommunicator II’s evaluate information to determine jurisdiction, equipment, and personnel to be dispatched. They deal with sensitive information in a discreet and professional manner and handle multiple requests at one time, prioritizing them according to the nature of the request for service.  

As a fire dispatcher, she is responsible for monitoring and replying to multiple radio frequencies simultaneously.  This aspect can be very challenging for a dispatcher.  “Split-ear” is critical to be successful. During certain hours of the day the fire console is staffed by two dispatchers, which puts a heavy emphasis on teamwork, coordination, and good communication in order to maintain control and accuracy of the events and units. Nicole is also a member of our Public Education Committee. The Public Education Committee is responsible for educating the public, user agencies, and co-workers on the proper use of 9-1-1, when to call and new technology.  On average, the committee does 2 events a month talking to civic and service groups, scouting groups and school groups (pre-schools and day care centers as well.)  The Kitsap County Fair is one of the largest events the group is involved in along with at least three other safety fairs throughout the year.