911 dispatcher named year’s best telecommunicator

Courtesy photoCathy Chin

Cathy Chin, a Department of Emergency Management dispatcher, was named Telecommunicator of the Year last week by the Northern California chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communication Officials. Chin has taken 911 calls of every kind for more than 16 years.

What’s a 911 dispatcher’s job like on any given day?

It varies; it’s not consistent. Anything can happen around the corner. It’s everything from police to medical to fire. It can be an easy day to a hectic day.

You were honored for handling an emergency call in November 2010 from a man on the Bay Bridge who threatened to blow up a bomb and kill himself.

I was to take nonemergency calls that day, and a fellow co-worker mentioned that there’s somebody on the bridge who had kidnapped his daughter. He was threatening to blow up the bridge. We had the news on, and I was looking at the TV and got the call from him. Working in San Francisco, we get a variety of callers. And at first I thought it was somebody trying to jump in on the media. He said, “I’m the guy on the bridge. I gave them my daughter, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to be left alone.” And then we discussed the pipe bomb that he said he had. I was just trying to figure out what his train of thought was, where he was mentally at that moment. I wanted to save him and make sure that everyone on the bridge was safe. I feel that I made a difference in his life. Luckily he was able to get through that moment, through that day.

What does it mean to you to receive this award?

Getting this award, I feel that the position overall — those that have my job as well — I feel like we have a voice for the first time.

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