Loudon E-911 hits big time on small screen

 Loudon E-911 hits big time on small screen

Loudon County E-911 dispatchers Jodell Hutton, Ashley Speed, Melanie Smith and Crystal Bingham, from left, have been featured several times on the show “Call 911” on the Discovery Channel.
Photo by Michael Patrick

By Matt Lakin knoxnews.com

LOUDON - They never know what the ringing phone will bring - a shooting, a stabbing, a mother in labor or a driver asking directions.

Loudon County's E-911 dispatchers work about 60,000 emergency calls every year. They listen to those in need and help direct firefighters, police and rescuers to the right spot to help.

"It's almost always either worse than it sounds or not nearly as bad," dispatcher Melanie Smith said. "You never get the whole story at first."

Their work has earned them five appearances so far this year on the Discovery Channel's "Call 911," which profiles emergency calls around the country. The most recent episode aired about two weeks ago.

Director Jennifer Estes submitted five calls when the cable network sent out a request for stories. All five made the show.

"It's an honor," she said. "It was good to get our folks on there and let everyone see what a good job they do on a daily basis."

Smith made the show for her handling of a police chase that began with an armed robbery at a convenience store. The clerk, held up at knifepoint, dialed before the robber had left the parking lot.

"When the clerk called in, you could hear his motorcycle leaving," Smith said. "It was a very interesting, very fast-paced call. She was able to give us a direction of travel, and an officer happened to be right there nearby. It seemed like they caught him awfully quick."

Ashley Speed detailed her call from a man shot five times during a fight with his wife.

"He called in while he was hiding in the bathroom, begging for help that he was dying," Speed said. "His wife was telling him she'd shoot him again if he didn't hang up, but we got him to stay on the line. He was able to get to the neighbors."

She kept the man on the line long enough to get police and an ambulance to the scene, the man to the hospital and the wife to jail.

Crystal Bingham's call came about a woman stabbed after arguing with her husband.

"They'd been fighting all night long," Bingham said. "He turned around and stabbed her with two steak knives. The police caught him crossing the street."

Jodell Hutton's call brought even more surprises than usual. A man had suffered a heart attack on a gym treadmill. As she took the caller's information, some of the details started to sound familiar.

"He was my neighbor," Hutton said. "I see him every day. He was gone, but the officers brought him back."

The dispatchers handle most such calls and never see or hear from the people involved again, but not this time.

"I saw him the day he got out of the hospital," Hutton said. "I don't know if he was even supposed to be driving, but he pulled up as I was in the yard. He came across the yard and never said one word. He just put his arms around me.

"He just said, 'I never had a chance to thank you.' "

Moments like that make the job worthwhile - even the prank calls, children playing with cell phones and fast-food customers complaining about drive-thru orders.

"There are a million things about this job that make me mad every day, but there are still a million reasons I want to work here," Bingham said. "When you leave here, you have a feeling of satisfaction that you've helped somebody. And every once in a while, when the person calls two or three weeks later and says thank you, that's one of the best feelings you've ever had."