On the evening of Friday, December 21, dispatcher Sheri Citrone, along with others, were working a 12-hour shift at the Newtown Emergency Communications Center at Town Hall South.
It was just one week after the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left more than two dozen people dead. The call volume at the dispatch center was high.
In a recent letter to the first selectman, Maureen Will, the town director of emergency communications, explained that at about 8:30 pm that night, Ms Citrone had answered a call on a routine telephone line from a man in Newtown.
The man explained to Ms Citrone that he had received a text message from his 29-year-old son, bidding his father “goodbye.”
After some extensive but diplomatic questioning by Ms Citrone, she learned that the son was a victim of depression, according to Ms Will.
“As the father was extremely concerned about his son and his welfare, Sheri was able to obtain the son’s cellphone number (and) she was able to ‘ping’ the cell signal,” Ms Will explained to the first selectman. Such pinging allows a cell phone’s geographic location to be determined electronically.
“With the assistance of the cellphone provider, [Ms Citrone] was able to determine that the cellphone was active and in Stratford,” according to Ms Will.
Consequently, Ms Citrone then contacted the Stratford Police Department about the situation. Stratford police then began a search of motels in the geographical area from which the cellphone signal originated.
Police found the man unconscious in a motel room after he had overdosed on heroin. Emergency medical staffers responded to the motel and revived the man, after which he was transported to a hospital. The man’s father was informed of the situation, after which he went to the hospital to see his son, according to Ms Will.
“Very simply put, (Ms) Citrone saved this young man’s life. She utilized her skills and training not only as a telecommunicator, but as a young woman who has aspirations to be a police officer, and a fine one she will make. Sheri exemplified all that I aspire my staff to be – caring, dedicated, and professional,” Ms Will said.
“With the events of December 14 still fresh in our minds and hearts, the day-to-day operations of (dispatching) continue,” Ms Will added.
Expediting The Search
In an interview, Ms Citrone explained that she was able to provide Stratford police with the make, model, and marker plate number of the vehicle which the depressed man had been driving, thus expediting their search for him.
After they located the man who had experienced a drug overdose and had gotten him the appropriate medical care to revive him, Stratford police contacted the Newtown dispatch center to make it aware of what had happened.
Ms Citrone said it was gratifying to learn that the man had been rescued and would recover. She then notified the man’s father of the situation.
The man’s father was thankful that his son had been saved from dying, she said.
Ms Citrone observed that emergency dispatching poses certain challenges.
“It’s tough. You’re supposed to be the ‘rock’ for the person on the other end of the phone,” she said.
The dispatch center handles all calls for local police, fire, and ambulance services. It handles all local 911 calls. Dispatchers work 12-hour shifts.
Well-versed in emergency matters, Ms Citrone, 30, is a volunteer firefighter/emergency medical technician in Patterson, NY. She formerly worked as an emergency dispatcher in Putnam County.
Ms Citrone explained that she is seeking to become a police officer, noting she would welcome the face-to-face contact with the people she would be helping.
Ms Citrone, who has worked at the Newtown dispatch center for one year, worked as a dispatcher on December 14.
“It was a difficult day,” she said.
That was the day that a 20-year-old gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a semiautomatic assault rifle and shot and killed 20 first–graders and six woman educators before killing himself as police approached. State police, assisted by town police and others, are investigating.