Dispatchers dispense 911 lessons

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Dispatcher Nikki Stephan is joined by the Red E. Fox at a presentation on the proper use of 911 at Hedges Elementary School on Oct. 9. (Tim Tepas photo)


 First graders are learning the “do’s” and “don’ts” of calling 911 with help from Flathead County emergency dispatchers and spokes-character Red E. Fox.

Through the 911 for Kids program last week, Hedges Elementary School first-graders learned when to use 911, how to place a call and what to say. 

Hedges is one of eight schools that have held 911 for Kids presentations. Flathead Emergency Communications Center Dispatch Supervisor Tim Tepas said he would like that number to be higher. Tepas hopes to educate first-graders in every school district on proper use of 911.

“Volunteer dispatchers have taught the program in schools with as few as eight first-grade children and in schools with as many as 120 first-graders,” Tepas said.

The free program is available throughout the school year to public and private schools and is funded by the Flathead 911 Foundation. Schools may contact Tepas to schedule a presentation, which lasts about 45 minutes.

Tepas said he believes the presentations have decreased the number of accidental, abandoned or prank 911 calls, which can tie up the dispatch system.

Some of the accidental calls may be made when children are practicing or playing with cellphones. Dispatcher Nikki Stephan said that even though cellphones may be disconnected, they still have the ability to call 911. If a child does call 911 accidentally, Stephan said he or she should stay on the line and tell the dispatcher.

Tepas implemented the 911 for Kids program in Flathead County six years ago. 

“The program began after we noticed a sharp increase in the number of children accidentally calling 911,” Tepas said.

Some of the young students have the potential to save lives in emergency situations.

“Not only do we teach first-graders about 911, we also award hero medals to young people that call 911 during an emergency and help summon first responders,” Tepas said.

For more information or to schedule a presentation, email tim.tepas@flatheadoes.mt.gov or visit www.flathead911.com.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.


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