The Right Path
Twenty-three years ago, Cindy Cross wanted to become a police officer. She went through the application process with the Morehead Police Department, and afterward, she had to wait for an opening in the Department of Criminal Justice’s basic training academy.
In the meantime, Morehead officials asked her if she would be interested in dispatching with Rowan County E911, to get a feel for public safety while she waited for a slot to open.
A funny thing happened while waiting for an academy class slot.
“About a year later, a slot came open, but I enjoyed what I was doing in dispatch, so I decided to stay on that path,” Cross said. “In that year that I was waiting and dispatching, I saw the interworkings and what it was all about. It was my spot in the (police) academy if I wanted to go, but I just enjoyed what I was doing so much that I decided (dispatching) was the path I wanted to follow.”
It is has been said there is no exaltation in being a dispatcher, and Cross agreed.
“When I first started working here, I was told, ‘There is no glory in this job,’” she explained. “And that is true. I take it in stride, but I am proud of what I do. I take great pride in my job. I have been very successful and am happy with what I’ve done over the years.”
Being the calm voice on the other end of the line, Cross has helped many people through the years. Several calls are memorable, including one call she received from a frantic father-to-be on Nov. 28, 2004.
“I delivered a baby,” she said with a glint in her eye. “The little boy was born out at the rest area on I-64. They live in the next county over, in Olive Hill. I had just gotten off maternity leave myself when the call came in. That morning, he was on his way to the hospital but pulled over at the rest stop. He called and said, ‘We’re not going to make it. The baby’s head is crowning.’ So, it kicked in. I talked him through it. The cord was wrapped around the baby’s head when it was coming out, and I talked him through how to take the cord from around the baby’s neck.”
Moments after the child was born, the ambulance Cross had dispatched arrived and whisked the child and his mother away to a nearby hospital.
“I went to see him when I got off shift, and that was pretty awesome,” Cross added. “That is my proudest moment, and I still keep up with the family.”
During her 23-year career, Cross has seen many changes for the good in the profession.
The most obvious, she said, has been the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. CAD has made it easier to obtain information from callers in an orderly manner.
“Before, we used a computer, and we had to take notes by hand,” Cross said. “At the end of a shift or during a lull in the shift, you typed everything into the log – each officer had a different log on the computer. The CAD system is more accurate as far as the information that (officers) give back and being able to type it in as opposed to shorthand and transcribing later.”
Mapping programs and cell phones have also made it easier to help people.
“I don’t know how many times I had to hop up out of my chair and go look at a map to figure out where someone was,” she said. “Mapping programs allow for quicker response time. With mapping, dispatchers can see the color of a house, whether it is a two-story or one-story home or a mobile home.
“We’ve had some shootouts where we’ve had to pull that particular house up (on the computer) to see the lay of the land around the house and to see if there were other houses nearby,” she continued. “We get that information and pass it on to the (first responders).”
Morehead is located in the mountainous region of Eastern Kentucky and has many popular hiking spots. Inevitably, a hiker will become disoriented and lost, and improvements in cell phone technology have helped with those calls.
“We use the cell phone signal when people are lost, and we’ve taught them how to drop pins so we can locate where they are,” Cross explained. “On your cell phone map, you can push the screen and drop a pin, and they can text you with their exact location and coordinates.”
Other than knowing she’s done her job to the best of her ability, Cross said it makes a dispatcher’s day when a first responder pops in to say, “Thanks.”
“We sit in here, and we never see the outcome. For the most part, they are the ones seeing it,” Cross said. “So, when you have an outcome and the firefighter calls in and says, ‘Hey, I’m glad you told us this,’ or, ‘I’m glad you told us that, going into this because we would have never thought about it.’ Or, if you have an officer who comes in and says, ‘Thank you for going above and beyond and looking for that information that I didn’t ask for; I would have never thought of that.’ That really makes my day … and they bring me a candy bar every now and then.”
Being a dispatcher is a calling of sorts, and it requires a great deal of empathy for people, Cross said.
“You have to be compassionate toward people,” she explained. “That is really what most people want … just someone to listen to them, and sometimes you have to fake it. I ain’t gonna lie. You just do. You have to love what you’re doing, and I do.”
After more than two decades serving the first responders and residents of Rowan County, Cross has a sense of humor, and perhaps more importantly, a plan for retirement.
“Let me get my calendar,” she said with a laugh. “I have it marked on there. I plane to retire on July 31, 2023, and not a day longer. I think 27 years is long enough, and after that, I plan to spend a lot of time on my boat at the lake.”
But until July 2023 rolls around, Cross said she plans to continue being the calm voice on the other end of the line in times of crisis.