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Portland 911 dispatcher wins top award for excellence on the job

A 911 dispatcher from Portland has won a big award. Stephen Zipprich was named the "911 Dispatcher of the Year” in competition covering North America.

PORTLAND, Oregon — A 911 dispatcher from Portland has won a big award. Stephen Zipprich was named the "911 Dispatcher of the Year” in competition with 50 other nominees from across North America.

For ten years, Zipprich has worked at Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications, where thousands of calls come in, many of them involving life or death situations. 

Systems and protocols have changed, but the senior dispatcher at BOEC has always kept this in mind: "You never know what you're going to get, but knowing, remembering that the person on the other end of the phone matters. And that they deserve my compassion and my empathy,” Zipprich explained.

It's that kind of caring put into action on the job that got Zipprich nominated for 911 Dispatcher of the Year, one of 51 nominees out of tens of thousands of dispatchers across North America.

That got him a trip to a conference in Denver last month for the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch. The organization is a worldwide leader in emergency dispatch protocols and systems.

That's where he heard a 911 call he took last year that exemplified his work. An excerpt was played for conference attendees to hear.

“Then I heard my voice come through the speakers and that's when I knew I had won, and it very emotional” said the 911 dispatcher.

It's a big deal for a humble guy like Stephen Zipprich.

“I am proud that I got it, honored that I got it. Honestly, I’m honored.”  

But much more important than the trophy is what Zipprich was able to do that helped him earn it: helping save the life of a suicidal woman who was intentionally overdosing, but then called for help.

Credit: KGW

After taking the call, Zipprich assured the woman she was not in trouble, then began asking questions that helped him understand the situation.

“You have a knife-- alright, is your breathing normal for you,” he asked.

Along with a suicide crisis counselor on the line, Zipprich was able to help the woman hang on.

The call went on for about 20 minutes before police and paramedics took over, with the lifesaving already well underway on the phone. Here is another excerpt of the call, with Zipprich responding to the woman:

“You said that you want me to not let you die today. And I don't want that to happen so I would really like for you to stay where you are so that help can get to you and find you.”

For work like that, the honor of the award is great, “But if I went my entire career in 911 communications and never got this, I would still be proud of the work that I do, that I get to help people every day,” said Zipprich.

That’s something the dispatcher is glad he can tell his two young daughters, about his work as a 911 dispatcher.

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