Coronavirus in Tampa Bay: Dispatchers reveal top questions nervous callers ask

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As first responders in Tampa Bay and beyond are sent out on the front lines 24-hours a day, seven days a week, they continually face uncertain conditions, even more so than usual.

During this pandemic, they’re now battling an invisible enemy, one that requires a unique plan of attack. This foe is something we’ve never seen before, often described as uncharted territory.

So, how exactly does a first responders respond safely, for both themselves and the public?

Because this pandemic involves a force so dangerous and so contagious, that question is asked repeatedly all over the world. With the globe now living in lock-down each day, first responders are forced to do things differently as they protect those around them.

First responders from Tampa Fire Rescue and the Tampa Police Department render aid along East Hillsborough Avenue Tuesday afternoon.

Police officers and firefighters must prepare accordingly, every second of every shift, and the people prepping them for daily battle are, themselves, now facing a whole new work flow.

Like many of us, 911 dispatchers are now finding themselves in the midst of change as their jobs include new rules and responsibilities. These heroes working tirelessly behind the scenes daily have gone through new training in recent weeks.

“We’re going to get through this as a team, we have that team aspect in here,” said longtime dispatcher Jamaal Mercy, a twelve-year veteran with the Tampa Police Department.

He is one of many whose face you may never see, but whose voice could mean the difference between life and death.

“As the chief says, we train for the blood, the bullets, everything else, but the virus, we don’t have much training,” Jamaal told 8 on your Side. “It’s evolving every day, how are we going to take an approach to things.”

This married, father-of-six, including a new born baby girl, starts his day by having his temperature taken, along with his colleagues which is now mandatory before each shift. Also, the 911 communications center in Tampa is on lock down. No outsiders are allowed inside.

Not even police officers.

Jamaal says it’s simple. The safety of all officers and firefighters is his top priority.

“You think about everyone involved, even the citizens driving on the interstate,” he said.

The supervisor with the Tampa Police Department’s communication center says callers get nervous when dispatchers are now requried to ask COVID-19 questions during each call, including the following questions:

  • Have you traveled recently?
  • Have you been sick?
  • Has a family member been sick?

Citizens are worried if they answer yes to any of those questions, cops will not come to render aid or assistance. Jamaal wants to set the record straight.

Help is one the way.

No matter what.

Bay Area police officers and firefighters have your back.

“If you’re on the line with us, just please answer through the questions. They’re just questions, it’s not going to keep the officers from responding to you,” Jamaal said.

Bottom line: “We’re still coming to you. We’re still trying to get out there.”

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