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Kanawha dispatcher honored for poise under pressure

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A message board at the Kanawha County 911 operations center proclaims "communications status: It's complicated."

But Dallas McKean, a 12-year veteran of handling emergency calls, said the stress and high energy of the job suit him fine.

"I love that stress," he said. "I think of it as, what if it was my family? I don't want to give up on a person."

McKean didn't give up when he took a call Aug. 20 from a rural Kanawha County resident who had been stabbed in the back at his home.

"He was bleeding out and just needed some help," McKean said.

He quickly notified authorities to go to the home. While he and the victim waited for them to arrive, McKean knew their conversation was vital.

"I kept that voice connection for about 15 minutes until the ambulance authority arrived," he said. "I tried to keep him talking."

McKean has been honored by the call center with the "Call of the Quarter," a new recognition that director Johnnie Rutherford hopes inspires employees and the public. McKean is the first to be recognized.

Rutherford said McKean's calm demeanor and experience was worthy of the honor.

The victim survived. And Rutherford said details gathered during the call also protected the lives of the responders.

"He was able to determine that the person who stabbed him was not still there," he said. "And did a good job all the way around."

"I tried to reassure him help was on the way," McKean recalled. "I tried to keep his heart rate down and keep him calm. I also tried to get as much information as I could."

McKean, 43, said he is devoted to emergency services - he is a former volunteer firefighter and has worked in communications for several law enforcement agencies.

"I try to visualize the situation," he said of answering 911 calls. "To get a picture of what's going on."

McKean and the other 58 employees who man those phones never know what will be on the other end of the line. People who call have heard shots, have seen a shooting, have had a car wreck or witnessed one.

Sometimes storms and disasters produce more calls than usual - the recent derecho brought McKean and others to the center to handle a huge number of calls for help. He slept on the floor when he wasn't working.

"There's a saying, 'Minutes save lives, dispatchers save seconds,'" McKean said.

Dispatchers have to be calm, speak clearly, know the local geography and be able to multi-task, he said.

"Staying on the phone with people is the big key," he said. "Sometimes people don't want to give us much information. We are the only eyes and ears for the police department before they get there."

"I'm impressed," said Rutherford, who only recently took over as director of the 911 center. "This is a specialty."

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at or 304-348-4832. 


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