One recent morning, in a dispatch center deep within the bowels of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Henrietta Ezeonyido scrutinized a dizzying array of 65 security screens. A patient had gone missing from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Through a centralized alert system, the Brigham notified other hospitals to be on the lookout. After about 15 minutes, the man was found. Crisis averted, Ezeonyido took a quick break to talk with me.
How did you end up as a dispatcher?
Born in Nigeria, she moved to the United States in 2002. “I’ve always been curious about dispatch. I love the intensity of it,” said Ezeonyido, who’s 28. Besides monitoring security cameras for bike thefts and other suspicious activity, the job calls for taking constant phone calls.
What kind of calls do you typically get?
Everything from medical emergencies to illegal parking, leaking water, and “code red” for possible fires. Sometimes patients call in frustration from the highway: “I’m on 93, which way do I go?” Sometimes, as happened last week, someone gets stuck in an elevator. “My duty as a dispatcher is to calm them down” until the mechanic arrives, she said. “I never hang up on them. I never let them go.”
What prepares you to keep your calm?
Ten years as a counselor in a residential program for people with schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. She still does that work part-time. It requires her to respond to unexpected situations, she said, which helps her on the dispatch desk: “You never know when you’re going to get that code red.”