Local Woman’s ‘Sixth Sense’ Earns Her Dispatcher of the Year Honor

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Emergency Dispatcher Laura Carson is often the first person to speak with a distraught caller in an emergency situation (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)
Emergency Dispatcher Laura Carson is often the first person to speak with a distraught caller in an emergency situation. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)

Saving lives is part of Laura Carson’s job description.

She is not a firefighter, police officer or doctor; her heroic efforts require being cool, calm and collected over the phone.

As an emergency dispatcher in York County’s Regional 911 Center, she regularly speaks with panicked, distraught and sometimes harmful people, coaxing them to a composed state as best she can while she waits for emergency responders to arrive and help the caller.

“The dispatchers are the first of the first responders,” said Terry Hall, chief of emergency communications for the county and Carson’s supervisor.

Carson, 30, handled one particular call a few months ago that caught Hall’s attention and led him to nominate her for the Veteran of Foreign Wars’ Dispatcher of the Year award.

Carson remembers the call vividly: A man dialed 911 after being unable to get through the automatic gate at a Williamsburg apartment complex — a “routine” call, Carson said.

The man eventually drove his car through the gate, causing property damage to the gate. Carson sent a police officer to the scene, but the man drove away, eluding police.

Laura Carson receives her award Monday in the 911 Regional Center. Pictured Left to right: 911 Communications Coordinator Hidrena Frances, Chief of Emergency Communications Terry Hall, York-Poquoson Sheriff J.D. "Danny" Diggs, Laura Carson and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (Courtesy YPSO)
Laura Carson receives her award Monday in the 911 Regional Center. Pictured Left to right: 911 Communications Coordinator Hidrena Frances, Chief of Emergency Communications Terry Hall, York-Poquoson Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs, Laura Carson and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (Courtesy YPSO)

While on the line with the man, Carson began to suspect he was intoxicated or on drugs.

“You just get that sixth sense about it when you become a dispatcher,” she said, explaining she has dedicated the last five years of her life to this job. “The longer you work here, the more you start to know something is off.”

She stayed on the line trying to convince him to pull over while he drove up Interstate 64 toward Richmond with police chasing him.

“I just wanted him off the road,” she said.

She explained he said he was afraid of police officers and refused to pull over, hanging up on Carlson several times.

She kept calling back and eventually coaxed him into pulling over, and Virginia State Police arrested him.

“She didn’t have to do all this,” Hall said, adding she went “above and beyond” in assisting the man and preventing him from harming himself or others.

Her actions eventually earned her the title of Dispatcher of the Year, which she was awarded last week at the 911 center.

“It’s very nice to be acknowledged and know that I’m doing a good job,” Carson said, adding she was extremely surprised by the award.

“She’s an outstanding employee,” Hall said. “Laura constantly applies these principles every day.”

The daughter of a James City County firefighter, Carson was used to being around the field of emergency response while growing up in Williamsburg and said a career as an emergency dispatcher was the perfect fit.

“I feel like I’ve found my place in the world,” she said.