You may not know their name. You probably wouldn’t recognize them if you passed them on the street. You might even consider yourself lucky if you never had reason to talk to them. They are 911 dispatchers, and Megan Delisio is one of those calm collected voices on the other line in times of need.
Often overlooked, emergency dispatchers provide a vital link in the emergency response system, fielding calls from people who are often frightened, in pain, and desperate for help. Dispatchers must remain calm and focused, to gather as much information as possible in those few moments while they send out the appropriate response team.
Delisio has served as a 911 dispatcher in Northwest Indiana for the last three years, and she is proud to call herself a member of that “Thin Gold Line.”
“You never know what kind of calls are going to come in,” Delisio said. “You never know who’s going to be calling, or if your police officers will become involved in a pursuit that day. You might find yourself instructing someone on how to perform CPR over the phone to save a life, or you’ll have to help someone with instructions on how to deliver a baby before the medics can get there. Every day is something new and that’s why I absolutely love it!”
Delisio admits that at times the job can be challenging, especially hearing a 16-year-old take his last breath.
“That was a tough day. Usually, you can leave it at the door, but that day I couldn’t. That one just really got to me,” she said.
For that call, Delisio needed closure, which she found by forming a special bond with the family.
“I went to the funeral, I met the family, and we made a connection through that tragedy,” Delisio said. “Usually, I’m just a voice on the other end of the line. Callers don’t know me, they don’t see my face, but that time, it was really nice to know that the family wasn’t alone, even during that terrible moment.”
The satisfaction of her job far outweighs the challenges.
“I’ve talked more than a few young people out of suicides,” Delisio said.
She’s even helped to reconnect a local family with their lost dog.
“I had just taken a call from a lady who was reporting her dog missing when I noticed an update on my screen about an animal problem in Highland. Someone had reported seeing a German Shepherd running loose - the same breed as my call. I asked if that location was near hers and she said yes. Putting two and two together, we coordinated with the officers and we were able to get the dog back home safely.”
“I got a nice thank you card from the family,” Delisio said. “That doesn’t happen often and it really made my day.”
A graduate of Wheeler High School, Delisio is originally from Palos Hills. She moved to Indiana at the age of 13, when her mother took a job at a local prison. She currently lives in Valparaiso with her 18 month-old son.
A self-described adrenaline junkie, Delisio said her hobbies include horseback riding and pretty much anything outdoors. She’s even tried skydiving.
“Just once, but I can’t wait to do it again!” she said.
One day, she hopes to go swimming with dolphins, but not just anywhere.
“Somewhere warm and tropical, with blue water,” Delisio said with a laugh.
The thrills of her career and even skydiving pale in comparison to the most exciting thing she’s ever done.
“Having my baby was the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” Delisio said. “He literally changed my life. But skydiving is a pretty close second,” she added.
For Delisio, being a 911 dispatcher has become part of who she is.
“There have been many days where I felt that I wanted to throw in the towel and quit,” she said. “The hours are long, there’s a lot of missed holidays, a lot of time away from friends and family, but in the end, it’s worth it. It’s an incredibly satisfying job.”
Delisio feels it’s important for callers to be able to provide as much information as possible when calling 911.
“Callers sometimes get frustrated with all the questions. They’re often hysterical, going through one of the worst moments of their life, but it’s important for them to know that there’s no delay in response time due to those questions,” she said. “We already have units on the way while we’re asking those questions, but it’s important for us to have pertinent information for responding units to be able to help them with whatever their situation may be.”
“We don’t have GPS. Unless you’re calling from a landline, we will need a location, an address or some landmarks. Something to help us find you,” she added.
It’s also important to note that you can text 911 now.
“There may be times when you can’t speak, for whatever reason, you can text 911, give us your name and location, the nature of the emergency and - again - give as much information as possible to help us help you,” Delisio said.
Having a calm and dedicated voice like hers on the other end of the line makes all the difference.