Voice of hope

Lei Upton

Courtesy Of lei upton

While police officers and firefighters serve as the public face of law enforcement, Chico dispatcher Lei Upton— who takes calls for police, fire and paramedics— is content with helping people from behind the scenes. In her nine years of service in Chico, Upton has encountered thousands of calls ranging from tense to downright strange. For her skillful help in handling Chico’s emergency situations, the Chico Police Department named Upton dispatcher of the year.

What do you like about being a dispatcher in Chico?

We have the luxury of having good response times. Other large, metropolitan areas, when someone has a medical emergency, they almost have to prioritize, and we don’t have to do that. We have a three- to five-minute response time for all medical emergencies and fires. It helps us in this room to be able to know that if somebody needs help we can get somebody out there.

Do you sometimes have trouble helping people?

Usually when people are really upset they give you just enough information to tell you what’s going on. Medical emergencies are the easiest calls because they tell you they need help, that someone’s hurt and hopefully the call comes in on a regular phone because then we already know what address to send someone to. The only thing we have to determine is if there are any hazards before we send the officers; but medical emergencies are usually the easiest calls to take.

Do you ever get ridiculous 9-1-1 calls?

A woman was actually so intoxicated that she ended up in one of the foreign dorms and thought she was in Japan. I just remember that one because she wanted us to call her parents. [Laughs] I’m thinking she was in the foreign student dormitory and they didn’t speak English. I’m guessing someone looked Japanese and so she thought she was in Japan. So we got her help and walked her across the street to the place where she was staying. Our fear when there are intoxicated college girls is that they’re going to be the victim of a crime because if they don’t even know where they are, someone could take advantage of them.

How did you get into this career?

It’s not something you grow up thinking about wanting to be—I know I never even thought about it. I didn’t really even know dispatching existed as a career until I answered an ad in the paper, but it’s a great job. It can be so fun and challenging and it’s different every day. When I leave work every night, I leave my job here. It can be a very stressful job, and you don’t want to take that with you.