Dispatcher’s actions crucial to last week’s propane fire’s positive outcome

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Lincoln’s police and fire chiefs praised the sole dispatcher on duty during last week’s tanker fire. The praise for police dispatcher Terri Leedy came during a press conference Friday where the 9-1-1 tapes from that incident were released. “Given the perspective of what dispatchers go through, she held the situation together,” Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren said. “She was one of the contributing factors of the first 30 minutes that helped with the outcome.” Leedy trains dispatchers and is a lead dispatcher, according to Shelgren. Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt praised Leedy’s decision to request mutual aid from area police and fire agencies before answering 9-11 calls that were coming in. “One of the things dispatchers learn is any time they have a fire in the city, a lot of people call in (to dispatch),” Whitt said. Whitt said if dispatcher’s don’t make calls for mutual aid before answering the “inundation” of 9-11 calls, “they can’t call out.” “She did an absolutely wonderful job,” Whitt said. The News Messenger spoke with Leedy in Lincoln’s dispatch center on Friday afternoon, asking her questions between 9-1-1 calls about her experience working the day the tanker caught fire. Leedy described working Aug. 23 when the tanker fire started as “insane.” “Just the volume of workload we had to handle,” Leedy said. Leedy said she had a decision to make that day when 9-1-1 calls reporting the tanker fire started coming in. “I had to make a decision to not answer 9-1-1 calls, either get units help or answer the phone,” Leedy said. “I had to make a split-second decision.” Shelgren, who was present during Friday’s interivew in dispatch, commented that Leedy’s decision was “the right call to make.” “In this situation, it’s something the dispatchers have to (use their) best judgment,” Shelgren said. “They’ve got seconds to make a call. It’s life or death.” When asked if she was scared or panicked when the first calls came in, Leedy said she “was elevated.” “I knew the magnitude of the situation,” Leedy said. “A tanker on fire is going to be a pretty big call.” After the police department was evacuated shortly after the tanker caught fire, Leedy went to the site of the fire to help phone in additional resources, such as public works department and California Highway Patrol. “I think about being that close. It probably wasn’t the smartest place to be,” Leedy said. Her family was also evacuated from their home during the incident. “That was hard on my family,” Leedy said. “They didn’t know what was going on.” Alone in dispatch that day, Leedy said she was covering for one of her co-workers on her regular day off. The News Messenger asked Leedy if she would have still come in that day, knowing what would have happened. “I wouldn’t change it,” Leedy said. Dispatchers often work alone, according to Shelgren, except for on the weekend. “We are in the process of doing an internal recruitment for a second dispatcher from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day of the week,” Shelgren said. Leedy has been a dispatcher since 1989, and said she enjoys the “variety” her job provides. “You don’t know what to expect, obviously like that day,” Leedy said. “It’s not a job where you go and do the same thing every day. You don’t know if there’s going to be a fire or a pursuit or nothing.” Leedy was asked if her experience as a dispatcher prepared her for the tanker fire. “I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that day,” Leedy said.