ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Dispatchers are considered to be the first first responders, often working behind the scenes to keep Abilene safe. Working quickly to access every unique call to provide aide to those in need.

Jennifer Matthews has been working at the Abilene Police Department (APD) for nearly three decades. She began her career as a dispatcher and now she is the dispatch communications supervisor.

“We counsel, we referee, we babysit, we give parental advice – pretty much Jack and Jills of all trades,” said Matthews.

What’s kept Matthews with APD all these years is her communications team’s ability to save lives.

“It is a very stressful job, but it is rewarding. We had one of our new dispatchers, with 22 days in training, did CPR on an infant last week and because of that, that infant is alive today,” Matthews stressed.

Amid nationwide dispatcher shortages, communications manager Becky Mackiewicz said APD is gearing up to train new dispatchers this spring. The communications department is seeking to fill 38 positions.

APD communications manager Becky Mackiewicz

“There’s an industry-wide shortage,” explained Mackiewicz. “Every area has an authorized staffing limit, how many you are allowed to have in that division while we’re currently below that staffing.”

Hoping to add around eight more dispatchers to serve Abilene, Mackiewicz said, “We will be able to meet that authorization level whenever we get that class started in May.”

Mackiewicz explained to KTAB/KRBC dispatchers are the first first responders to assist the community.

“Even though we’re not physically on scene, we are in contact with people that are on scene, and we have the ability to impact safety,” said Mackiewicz.

Patrol Sergeant Eric Katona said dispatchers serve as their ears and intel before arriving on a scene, which is why having a full staff is crucial.

“They give us information at a very specific order to ensure not only the public safety, but also for first responders fire, metro and police,” Sgt. Katona vouched.

It’s all a group effort, according to Mackiewicz, and she enjoys serving Abilene.

“After years in retail and call center customer service and things like that,” Mackiewicz added, “I was a dispatcher the whole time and I just needed to be at the right place, and I found it.”