A helpful voice saves a life; Calif. 911 dispatcher honored

By Tammy McCoy
The Press-Enterprise 

MURRIETA, Calif. — A young girl had fallen into a backyard pool. Her family, who spoke only Spanish, called 911.

Public safety dispatcher Ami Hicks answered.

The girl's teenage sister translated.

"It was pure chaos," Hicks recalled. "You could hear the family screaming. I didn't hear the baby."

On that summer day, Hicks told them to get the girl, who Hicks said was about 2, out of the pool but not to put her on the floor, said Cris Martinez, support-services supervisor for the Murrieta Police Department.

Dispatchers aren't trained to give medical treatment so they are not required to provide medical instructions to callers, but Hicks went beyond what is expected to help save the girl's life, Martinez said.

In April, Hicks was rewarded.

She received an honorable-mention award from the California Public-Safety Radios Association for her handling of the call.

Hicks' co-worker, Leanna McConnaughey, won for dispatcher of the year for flawlessly performing her duties and for her professionalism, Martinez said.


Hicks, 31, sold electronics to school districts before becoming a dispatcher for Murrieta in 2002.

"I always wanted to be in law enforcement," she said. "I gave dispatching a shot and I really like it."

There is nothing like going home at night knowing you've helped the public and police officers, she said.

That does not mean the job is without its challenges.

"Nobody is ever in a good mood when they call us," Hicks said. "They are screaming most of the time. I will have to yell sometimes. We need them to listen and focus on what we are saying."

Some callers don't understand that police sometimes are busy responding to a domestic violence call and cannot drop that to handle a complaint about barking dogs or kids toilet-papering homes, she said.

Other times, people call 911 and ask about traffic conditions on the freeways, Hicks said.

A benefit of working with emergency responders in Murrieta, she said, is that you become a member of a close-knit family.


When you spend 12 hours a day for six months working with the same people, bonds form and you get to know each other, Hicks said.

"The camaraderie here is unbelievable," she said.

The Officers' Wives Club brings in large amounts of food to the station on Thanksgiving and Christmas for those who have to work, Hicks said.

"It's a very family-oriented department," she said.

Hicks and her husband, Tom, recently joined the ranks of parents. Hicks gave birth to a daughter, Devin, 10 weeks ago.

She had come to the station during her maternity leave to accept awards from the city for her service.

But she is not complaining.

"I work with a great team of people," Hicks said.

Copyright 2007 The Press Enterprise, Inc.

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