MAYVILLE – The numbers 9-1-1 are more than just numbers. They can be one of the few things between life and death.

When those numbers are dialed, on the other end of the phones are extremely well-trained individuals whose job it is to help people through emergencies and get help to them as fast as possible.

The county’s 911 call center is the “nerve center” of all the emergency services in the county.

According to Marv Cummings, senior communications officer for the dispatch center, “it is the hub of activity for the county.”

“We are the answering point for all emergency services in the county except for the village of Fredonia and the city of Dunkirk,” he said. “If you call 911 from a cell phone or a home phone this is where it gets answered. We are pretty much the quarterback of the department.”

Sheriff Joseph Gerace said that the call center handles all 911 and other emergency calls and radio traffic for the county.

“They really are the nucleus of the emergency response system, from the first call that comes in, through coordination of the entire event,” he said. “It is a critical function of public safety.”


Among the programs that are used by the center is the enhanced 911 program, which provides much information from a simple phone call.

“It gives us not only the caller’s voice, but also a data stream that comes with that call that provides the name of the party that the phone is registered to, their specific address, the appropriate fire, police and EMS providers.” said Gerace.

The data stream the systems gives the dispatcher displays many different types of information.

“We are able to pinpoint your exact locations using the GPS off of your cell phone, so we are able to tell where each person is calling from,” said Cummings. “If you call 911, it displays the name of the person or company that is calling, their address, and I am able to send them help.”

This helps dispatch immensely, he said.

“When the weather is bad, when there is a big storm in Chautauqua County, a lot of cars go off the road,” he said. “A lot of travelers who come into the county on (Interstate) 86, they go off the road, they have no idea where they are at, they call 911 on their cell phone, we have to find out where they are at. We can find their locations using the coordinates off their phone and then send them help,” he said.

This is part of the system called computer-aided dispatch, or CAD.

“In most cases we can acquire the longitude and latitude of the call and it is accurate within approximately 100 meters of the caller’s actual location, which can be a lifesaver if people do not know where they are or are unable to communicate their location to us,” Gerace said. “It connects to our computer-aided dispatch systems, which we have even more information available, including hazardous situations that may be present at that address. It then allows us to look up for instance if there is a wanted person at that address, if there have been previous incidents within a short period of time, if there is a gun registered to somebody at that house, if there are any associated hits, for instance somebody who might be an associate of another person, usually this a criminal matter, it would give us that heads up.”

The CAD system also interfaces with the National Crime Information Center.

“All of our mobile computers in the patrol cars are connected to dispatch, so they can actually silently dispatch a car and get response back from the field without going over the radio,” said Gerace. “Normally that is not done, it is only in certain situations that we use silent dispatch, and that would be if there is reason to believe the perpetrator is monitoring police frequencies.”

The department also uses a system called automated vehicle locators to see units in real time on a map, which they use to determine who is the closest to an incident and dispatch them as soon as possible.

“We can see where the patrol cars are at any given time throughout the county, which is a huge benefit to the safety of the officers on the street and also the deployment of the resources, because they can see who is closest to the call and coordinate responses when you have multiple agencies responding,” said Gerace.


Twenty full-time employees and 10 part-time employees staff the center.

During peak times, said Cummings, six people staff the center, and during other times, four people are there to take calls. The center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“In this room, we have one person dedicated to dispatching the Sheriff’s Department and all the outlying departments, like the town of Ellicott, Westfield Police and Silver Creek Police, we have one person who is dedicated to the city of Jamestown Police Department and the Lakewood-Busti Police Department, and we have one person dedicated to fire,” said Cummings. “He does all the volunteer fire departments and the city of Jamestown Fire Department.”

According to Cummings, it is normally the busiest in the center from 9 a.m. until 3 a.m., and usually it is a little bit quieter from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m.

“The 911 phone doesn’t really stop ringing. We get hundreds of 911 calls a day that come into this office,” he said. “When the weather is bad outside, when we have a storm, this place is total chaos, you can imagine how busy this place can get. There is very little downtime in this office, the phones pretty much never stop.”


Hundreds of calls flood the center each day, said Cummings.

In 2010, the center received 59,000 emergencies calls. This does not include the administrative calls they also handle.

“They handle tens of thousands of 911 calls a year,” said Gerace. “And many more administrative calls. It is estimated we take 10 times as many admin calls.”

The center handles communications for Westfield Police, Lakewood-Busti Police, Silver Creek Police and Jamestown Police.

Daily the center deals with a few hundred calls a day, in 911 emergencies only.

“During the daytime, we take a lot of calls from people that are checking on incidents that happened on a previous shift, at night time. accident records, they have to talk to investigators about previous incidents, all those calls come into this office,” said Cummings. “You go from low one minute to high the next. You can be taking a report of a stolen bicycle one minute to a woman’s mother who is not breathing, and having to walk them through CPR.”


“Over the years there has been significant consolidation of dispatch services, mostly due to economics,” said Gerace.

In the 1970s, Lakewood, Falconer, Silver Creek, Jamestown, Dunkirk and Fredonia all had their own dispatchers. Over time these consolidated.

On Jan. 8, 2004, the city of Jamestown’s communication center consolidated with the county.

“That was about a five-year process,” said Gerace. “The whole planning and merging, consolidating databases and doing all the technological connectivity and merging employees, that took a considerable amount of time. We got down to minutia so detailed that we can even open and close the garage bay doors in the fire stations and police stations, we can do that from Mayville.”


The time it takes from taking the call to dispatching calls is instantaneous, both Gerace and Cummings said.

“We have a system of call takers and dispatchers, but it is a small area so the call taker, while they are entering the call, they are telling the dispatchers to dispatch,” said Gerace.

At peak times, three people act as call takers, who take and enter the information and forward it to the dispatcher who dispatches the resources.

“Once the dispatcher gets the information on his screen, they will decide how many police cars if it is a police matter, need to respond,” said Cummings. “If it is a medical emergency or fire, it is all predetermined which to dispatch.”

Dispatchers are also constantly in contact with judges, utility companies, wrecker services and coroner.


For those who call 911, many questions will be asked to determine the nature of the emergency and what resources need to respond.

The first question will be “Where are you?”

“When you call 911, be prepared to give an exact location and the exact problem you are calling about, those are the two biggest important questions,” said Cummings.

Once the location is verified, dispatchers determine the nature of the emergency.

“They would ask certain questions of the caller, and may instruct them to perform certain pre-arrival functions, like CPR or the Heimlich,” said Gerace.

Depending on what type of emergency it is, if it is police related, they are going to ask a lot of questions, said Cummings.

“We are going to try to figure out what the problem is, what kind of help we need to send you,” he said. “If it is a medical emergency, we are able to provide pre-arrival instructions. For instance if you call 911 and someone is having a medical emergency, the dispatcher is going to ask you questions to pinpoint what the problem is. If it uncontrolled bleeding, we are prepared to tell you how to control the bleeding; if its a person who is not breathing, we are prepared to walk you through CPR.”


The greatest challenge, according to Cummings is remaining calm.

“If someone calls and is excited or hysterical, if you are the same way, it is not going to help the situation,” said Cummings. “Most people that call in medical emergencies are hysterical. So the first thing we need to do is calm the person down, so they can answer some simple questions we have for them. If a person is hysterical and screaming on the phone it is very hard for us to get them to calm down and answer the questions we need to answer before we can send them help. We need to break that threshold so to speak.”

Another challenge is knowing the county.

“You really have to know the entire county as far as the geographics,” he said. “The better you know the county, the easier your job is going to be.”

“They have to be knowledgeable of the county, how to multitask and how to stay calm during very stressful situations,” said Gerace. “It can go from 0 to 100 instantly. It can go from calm to one of the most significant events of their career.”

Assisting those on the other end of the phone in medical matters can also be challenging.

“We have assisted delivering babies over the phone, we have successfully assisted people using the Heimlich maneuver, performing CPR so our people have to be proficient in those areas,” said Gerace. “It is hard enough to do it at the scene, to instruct somebody to do it over the telephone and verify it is being done right presents an even greater challenge.”