Caitlin Mulherin: Keeping the Public Safe
Since childhood, people are taught to call 911 in the case of an emergency, whether someone has badly injured themselves or when there is serious and immediate danger surrounding them. That’s when an East Haven Public Safety (EHPS) dispatcher like Caitlin Mulherin is there to help people, offer the best advice to concerned citizens, and collaborate with the rest of the town’s emergency services.
“I like working with the public; I like working with officers in the Fire Department, to just help people all day long, 24 hours a day,” Caitlin says. “The people who are there on the other end of the line, when it is a whole day, or it is 3 o’clock in the morning, there’s always someone here to help them if they need it.”
Caitlin’s interest in all things relating to crime-solving and public safety led her to study the topics in her undergraduate and graduate studies, focusing on the scientific angle of them.
“I was always interested in crime and crime shows and forensics,” Caitlin says. “I went to school for forensic science…and then I got my Master’s in advanced investigations in forensics at UNH [University of New Haven].”
Caitlin joined EHPS more than eight years ago and is one of the two leading dispatchers with the unit. Caitlin and her co-leader take care of numerous organizational responsibilities, including looking after the payroll and dispatcher scheduling, reaching out to IT experts to solve issues concerning the unit’s technology, and even ensuring the Police Department building is clean. But as a trained dispatcher, she will still perform the necessary tasks of the role and knows the ABCs of it.
“You have to have the ability to read maps, you have to be able to think quickly, [to] stay calm on an emergency basis, and you need to be very good at communicating between your co-workers and over the radio,” she says.
Having good communication with the right technology is key for Caitlin, as she will talk with personnel not just in the East Haven Police Department but also the Fire Department and emergency medical services. This is especially true when communications cross over city boundaries.
“If it’s a multijurisdictional law, say it’s going through the highway or something here, we actually have a separate radio frequency called a ‘hotline,’ and if you go on that frequency, all of the towns in the area can hear it. Because otherwise, you’d either have to call them on the phone or go on their radio frequency. That’s actually a very important tool that we use every day, and we can also hear crimes that are going on in other towns.”
While playing a role in solving an emergency situation, Caitlin, like other dispatchers, can find herself working long hours, sometimes into the early morning when most are asleep, on federal holidays, and during hazardous weather events. But with her experience, it’s nothing new.
“I’m used to it now”, she says. “I’ve worked every minute, of every hour, of every day.”
Very often, dispatchers find themselves on the receiving end of calls where an emergency is imminent for the caller, who may be screaming hysterically for help. As learned in training, the first step in quelling the situation the best way possible is for Caitlin to not “freeze up” and remain calm, an effective tactic that can translate to the distressed caller.
“A lot of times, your demeanor sets the tone for the caller...If they call and they’re at a ‘level five hysterical’...the hardest part is just figuring out what is going on,” she says. “If they’re just screaming, you don’t know what’s going on. We may even be able to calm them down more…just by telling them we have someone coming.”
Sometimes, Caitlin will give the caller “pre-arrival instructions,” offering the best solutions for an issue while they await appropriate services to arrive and take care of the rest of the situation.
“They’ll feel better because they feel like they’re helping,” Caitlin says. “Not only did they call help, but while we’re on the way, we stay on the phone, and then we tell them what to do.”
Caitlin has helped with some very intense calls during her time with EHPS and has built up the mental fortitude to take herself and the callers through them. But that doesn’t mean there are not some odd or comical “emergencies” they receive, like one she got from a mother.
“She said there was a snake outside her door but that her kid could not get off the bus and enter the threshold because the snake was just sitting there,” she said. “People, actually, are very upset by animal calls like that. You think it’s a major incident, but really that they have a squirrel in their house. Squirrels on the couch, in the chimney, skunks, snakes.”
These calls don’t come without value, however. It reminds Caitlin of how helpful people know dispatchers can be.
“A lot of times, people just call us because they don’t know who else to call, or they’re just looking for advice, which is fine. We always tell them that if you’re not sure, just call, so we can direct you to who can help you if we can’t help you.”
For the emergency calls that make her proud, Caitlin mentions walking people through performing CPR, including those who may not be certified. It’s another way she can help make a difference for a person before help arrives, and it keeps her going, despite whatever new challenge of a call she is facing. For that, she has advice.
“Try not to take your work home with you because you might just spend all day thinking about stuff that happened. I pretty much tell myself I did everything I could and that I did send them the help that they needed.”