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Women in Public Safety Communications: Sarah Hills

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  • Women in Public Safety Communications: Sarah Hills

    We reached out to women in public safety leadership roles to discuss the challenges they’ve faced and provide advice for future leaders. In the coming months, APCO will highlight these interviews online and in our publications.

    Sarah Hills, Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon, Lead Dispatcher, CTO, RPL, APCO Awards Committee Chair

    • Public safety dispatcher for 13 years (November 2007)
    • APCO member since November 2012
    • APCO RPL designation since 2015
    • RPL facilitator
    • Current APCO Awards Committee Chair

    How did you get your start in emergency communications?

    I applied for the job while on maternity leave with my second child in February 2007. In August 2007, I received a call asking if I was still interested in a position in the local police department’s dispatch center. I did not remember applying for this job, but thought, what the heck. I had no idea what a dispatcher did. In fact, my idea of a 911 center was a national center that took calls for the entire nation and then gave them to individual first responder departments for response. After my first sit along, I was hooked. Today I cannot see myself doing any other profession; I love helping others on the phone, training and mentoring in the center, and volunteering on the national level.

    What are some of the obstacles you have overcome in this industry?

    Shortly after I became a dispatcher for the city dispatch center, the county and city dispatch centers consolidated to form a countywide dispatch center. Combining two centers, learning new systems, policies and procedures, and personalities was overwhelming and interesting. I was just a baby dispatcher, and I did not know all the ins and outs of the dispatch center. As I advanced my skills and knowledge of public safety communications over the years, I began seeking a position as a supervisor. In our center, supervisor positions do not come available for long periods of time, and the first one I applied for I was not selected for. I have been the only lead dispatcher in our center for the past four years and look forward to advancing my career in the coming years.

    How has your APCO membership helped you in your profession?

    APCO membership has opened my mind to the possibilities available to me in the public safety communications field. It has enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of the public safety communications industry through the RPL program and allowed me to network with amazing individuals and see how their centers handle different tasks.

    How should women support other women in their agency?

    Women should support other women in their agency by listening to them, encouraging them, correcting with grace, and mentoring with humility.

    Do you or did you have a mentor?

    Yes, I have two mentors: my center Director and current APCO President, Margie Moulin, and my former Working Group Leader, Mark Spross. Both have helped answer my questions along the way, supported me when I wanted to take the next step in the industry and encouraged me when I was doubting my abilities.

    Can you give an example of exceptional leadership that you experienced? And how did that shape your leadership style?

    Exceptional leadership looks like genuinely knowing your employees and their families, knowing the job the employee is doing and the difficulties they face, seeing the employee’s potential and encouraging them to reach for it, fostering your employee’s desire to advance in their career and giving them pointers along the way, and correcting missteps and mistakes with grace. Watching the exceptional leaders around me makes me want to also be an exceptional leader, one that always remembers where I came from, how I got to where I am at and encourages those around me to be the best person they can be.

    What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

    Never stop learning, never stop pushing yourself, and never become complacent. This industry is huge and the possibilities are endless; reach past your comfort zone and always try the scary things. Seek out strong mentors, network with your peers from other agencies and put yourself out there, you won’t regret it.

    What is the best thing to happen to you this week, either at work or outside of it?

    The air quality has improved in our area, and I was able to go for a hike for the second time in a month.

    What are your greatest career accomplishments?

    Completing the RPL course was by far my greatest career accomplishment so far. There were so many times within that year that I wanted to give up or not do the work. But I was able to complete it, and I’ve been able to renew it by my continued contributions to the public safety communications industry.

    What inspires you?

    My mom and dad inspire me. They inspire me to always do my best, to try new things and to never give up. They showed me that when things get tough, it’s okay to stop, take a deep breath, and even cry if you need to, but never quit and continue on with the task at hand. They have believed in me and loved me through all my crazy adventures.

    Where do you find yourself on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?

    Saturday mornings at 10 a.m., you will find me on a dirt or rock trail in a mountain or valley hiking and enjoying the beauty around me.