NYPD 9-1-1 Dispatchers

As 9-1-1 dispatchers, the role faith plays in their work is unique. In New York City they are responsible for the safety of over 9 million people every day. Faith played a particularly important role on September 11, 2001, and they felt with the unfolding of the national tragedy.

Christ at Work in the Every Day

Suzan Johnson Cook: The work of the 911 operators and dispatch is extremely important. We're a city of 8 million people and counting. It is the largest city in the United States and people of all walks of life live here, come through here. And so the work is very important. They can be the call between life and death, between saving a life or not.

911 Operator: "New York City, 911, police, fire and medical."

Natalie Wilson: "Is he breathing? Okay, ma'am, help is on the way, ma'am. Take a deep breath. It's going to be okay."

Suzan Johnson Cook: Well, those who we've met today are people who have really committed to number one, the department, committed to God in terms of being chosen for this position, committed to making sure that the people of New York City and both tourists and those who are residents are taken care of to the best of their ability. So I'd like to think that they do the best they can every day.

Monique Brown: It's just pure chaos. And then when that's over, you go and do the next emergency. When that's over, you go and do the next one. It's just what we do.

911 Operator: "So stay right where you are. I stay with you until help arrives."

Suzan Johnson Cook: The work is very intense and so people have to stay very focused, very faith centered, and have to be very much a unit. They have to be calm under all circumstances because they're providing help. They don't know what the call is going to be on the other line. They don't know who the voice is going to be, so it is one that they're trained for, but it takes more than just training. It takes faith and it takes a focus and it takes a firm dedication that this is where I'm supposed to be to help the people who call me.

Darlene Cherebin: Every day. I choose to come to be the answer for those people who need me to be the answer. When the phone rings, you don't know. When you hear the tone in your ear through your headset, you don't know who's going to be on the line and what is it to you anyway, you have to help the person that's calling.

911 Operator: Faith plays a big part. When you come in every day and you have to come in with your armor on and ready to face whatever is going to come to you.

Natalie Wilson: You have to pray. I pray every day when I get up, as I'm coming to work, as I'm going home, I pray.

Suzan Johnson Cook: I believe faith is everything. It undergirds them, it prepares them. It centers them.

Monique Brown: God prepares us because he gives us the patience. I mean, training is everything right, but you still have to have some patience. You still have to have something that class doesn't prepare you for to endure all the tragedy you hear all day long. Nobody is ever calling for something good. No one's ever calling to say it's a beautiful day.

Darlene Cherebin: You can't prepare yourself for what's going to go on because you don't know what's going to go on throughout the day. Faith for me has always been there because if I'm taking a call as a PCT and I'm an operator, you have to have faith because some of these people are crying out, some, I took a call, a guy was on top of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Natalie Wilson: Prayer does change things.

Suzan Johnson Cook: So we must make sure that when we hit the potholes of life that we have something that undergirds us. And what that is is for faith. And now not only is it individually recognized, but people are saying, let's come together. You're a believer. I'm a believer. Instead of a coffee break, let's take a faith break.

Christ at Work During the 9/11 Tragedy

Darlene Cherebin: September 11th, 2001, I decided to work overtime that day. I was a midnight worker.

911 Operator: It was a quiet, beautiful morning. I think the sun was out, it was calm.

Darlene Cherebin: And I decided I was going to work overtime to go to lunch with my husband. Before I went to bed.

911 Operator: I was dispatching and I was in zone one and the officer came over the ear and he informed me that a plane just went into a building.

Natalie Wilson: It was something you can never forget.

News Anchor: "We have a breaking news story to tell you about. Apparently a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center here in New York City. It happened just a few moments ago. Apparently we have very little information available..."

Darlene Cherebin: And then the world changed. It...calls just started coming from everywhere.

Natalie Wilson: People were running, screaming, they didn't know what to do.

Darlene Cherebin: The next call that came in was somebody calling for help from inside of the tower.

Natalie Wilson: It was horrible because you had to be calm. Then you're thinking about your family members that was trapped out there. So everybody had to hold that unity to help each other so we can help the public.

911 Operator: My day started fine until I looked up and seen our banner board and it said 523 calls waiting. So right away I knew something was going on.

Natalie Wilson: It was just your body felt despaired like you were helpless because there was a lot of people needing help. And the only thing you can do is try to get them assistance. And majority of our assistants were down also. Remember with the towers crash, so you really couldn't reach out or hear anybody. Only the public could hear us, but they couldn't see us.

Darlene Cherebin: The lady was like, there's smoke. There's smoke everywhere. And we followed procedure that day. We stuck to the script.

911 Operator: It just was a day that...it still bothers me today.

Darlene Cherebin: And I remember the lady saying, should I break a window to get some air? And I'm like, oh my God, the room is filling up with smoke. Are they going to be able to get to her? But FD was confident that they would get to her.

911 Operator: People, their last rights, people explaining to us how hot the building was, just telling us who they family were, who if we could get in touch with them. We got everything that day.

Suzan Johnson Cook: It didn't matter who was black or white, female, male. It was like, can we pray together? And I remember in the lobby of one of the buildings that did not get hit, we formed a circle and we began to pray.

Darlene Cherebin: I did have a call where Carla asked me to pray with her, and you accept that responsibility.

Natalie Wilson: People are screaming. They was missing family members. Only thing we could do was take the information. Because remember, we had units out there were lost. So we was trying to do the best we can to assist the public.

Darlene Cherebin: Another call came in and another call came in and some people were asking me to pray with them. Some people toward two or three hours in when the next plane hit. I can't give you the minutes when the next plane hit. For some reason I got that same lady and she said there were five of them in the room and they could see the tail of the first plane. So at that point to them, they believed that it was over. Nobody's going to rescue them. I guess in the time that it took her to hang up and call back, they realized that they weren't going to get out.

Richard Naplitano: They're the unsung heroes of the first responder network. They are the most important people in New York City. I cannot think of anyone more important than a 9 1 1 operator.

Darlene Cherebin: You go where you're sent, you're chosen to go to a place and you go and you do your best. And that day, I think I did my very best.

911 Operator: It's a big city and it's extremely important. A lot of people forget who's behind that phone. It's everyday New Yorkers, mothers, fathers, brothers, uncles, and it's a lot. It's a lot.

Darlene Cherebin: Them on the outside calling us. They think that we want to ask these questions. No, this is what we have to do to ascertain the information that we need to get you the help.

911 Operator: I do it because I enjoy helping people. I like the fact that I'm doing something worthwhile. It gives me a good feeling, even though it is stressful and it makes me feel good. I like knowing that I'm helping someone.

Suzan Johnson Cook: There's a scripture that says, "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I heal from heaven and then will I heal the land?" So our land is in need of healing. It's not about who you voted for or did not vote for. It's about that we are humanity and we must walk together. We must work together. We must win together. And so I am on the front lines, being a soul soldier of the soul of this nation.

Darlene Cherebin: I think that this job chose me. I didn't choose the job.

911 Operator: I love what I do. I like helping people. For me, at the end of the day, it's rewarding. I can go home and sleep well at night because I know I got this person, an ambulance or this person. I just talked to them because they just needed someone to talk to. They may not have needed any type of police assistance, fire assistance. They just need to hear a calming voice. Just to know that there is someone that cares. Even if I make a difference in one person's life, I feel great.

Darlene Cherebin: Oh, definitely. I recognize the responsibility. I've been here 26 years. We're still people. We definitely are still people. We are the people that are here for the city.

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