Greenville Police Department dispatchers Danielle Proctor, left, and Shawnna Davenport were recently named as the national 911 Operators of the Year and will receive their awards next month.

For Greenville Police Department dispatchers Shawnna Davenport and Danielle Proctor, the April 25 fire at the Townhouse Apartments was just part of another day on the job.

How they responded to the emergency, however, was extraordinary in the eyes of their colleagues. The pair have been named the 911 Operators of the Year by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).

Davenport and Proctor will receive their awards at next month’s conference of the Texas NENA and the Commission on State Emergency Communications in Austin.

While the fire itself did little actual damage to the building, it required the evacuation of dozens of residents, a rescue operation on behalf of the fire department, crowd control by the police department and cooperation among several other agencies, all of which was coordinated through the dispatch office.

Davenport wrote an account of how she and Proctor dealt with the experience for 911 Appreciation Week.

“They just wanted an idea of, for dispatch, what you do in a day,” Davenport said. “We wanted to write a story which encompassed all our duties ... in other words, what we have to do together as a team to cover all of the aspects of the communication.”

Their supervisor, Bonnie Davis, sent it to the NENA with nominations for both of them and they learned earlier this month they had been chosen.

“It really was a team thing,” Davis said. “There were between 38 and 48 people nominated and they chose the top seven teams. They were the number one.”

Police Chief Harold Roseberry said the pair was an example of professionalism.

“I just want to give them the praise for all the hard work they do,” Roseberry said. “It is very stressful and they do a great job. We’re excited they have one this prestigious award.”

Davenport recalled how it was a typical Tuesday morning at the police station, until around 11:15 a.m., when the initial 911 calls came in.

Davenport explained she and Proctor — as well as the other dispatchers — deal with fire calls all the time.

“But we knew this one had the potential to be very bad, given that the Townhouse was very old and the placement of the apartments in the center of town, with all of those other buildings around it,” she said. “Logistically, it was a nightmare, with the parking of all the fire trucks.”

Davenport notified the Fire Department, while Proctor contacted the police patrol sergeant and lieutenant. The pair were having to answer phones while keeping in touch with the officers and firefighters.

The dispatchers maintained contact with ambulances arriving on the scene, as well as with officials from the electric and gas companies. Callers from apartments on the third floor told the dispatchers they are trapped and asked what to do. The pair advised the residents to block their doors with towels, cover their mouths with wet rags, open their windows and stay under the smoke. One man was told not to jump from his window.

Additional manpower was dispatched to the scene, as Davenport and Proctor continued to keep the residents calm until the officers and firefighters could get to them.

“We were doing five of six things at a time,” Davenport said. “I’ve still got to maintain this person as a lifeline, but I’ve got to get the ambulance enroute, I’ve got to contact the phone company and Danielle still has calls coming in.”

The hardest part, she said, was telling callers they would have to be put on hold for a moment.

Eventually, everyone was rescued and no one was hurt, which for the dispatchers was the best part of the entire experience.

As to the other aspects of their job, both dispatchers said they are still getting used to their new operations center inside the recently opened Police and Courts facility downtown.

Proctor appreciates the upgraded equipment.

“The technology is much better and I like that,” she said.

On the other hand, the team which once worked side by side now sits across from one another. Before, they could anticipate each other’s actions a little more than they can now.

“So, we don’t have that advantage,” Proctor said. “But other than that, it’s great.”

The dispatchers have had lengthy careers, while Davenport also is involved with the Sabine Valley Amateur Radio Association. Her husband Jim is the president of the organization and a deputy constable (see today’s Brunch section for details).

Both Davenport and Proctor maintain their actions on April 25 were no different than those of any other morning.

“It wasn’t because on that particular day we did anything more extraordinary than on any other,” Davenport said. “We’ve had days which have certainly been far more dramatic. It was just that it caught people’s attention.”

It is the type of attention which Davenport feels people in her line of work deserve more of, rather than the focus when something goes wrong.

“There are thousands and thousands of people who do this every day, like we do, and they never get that recognition,” Davenport said. “We’re not getting the award for us, we’re getting it for our profession.”

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