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Theirs is the first voice a person hears when they call for help; they are sometimes the unsung, unseen team player who works behind the scenes to calm the victims, assist the officers and sometimes keep the bad from becoming worse.
Ironton Police dispatcher Tina White has been officially commended for her role in defusing a potentially deadly situation and in saving the life of a man who was contemplating suicide.
On the evening of Sept. 26, 2004, officers were called to an Ironton residence because a man was threatening to kill himself and his family.
The police department handles suicide calls almost every day, but White said this one was different.
"I had never had a situation like that before," she said. "I have never had one where the person was that serious about harming himself and other people."
The man was in an upstairs bedroom at his house with a loaded handgun under a pillow and a loaded shotgun within his reach.
"It was the ultimate tactical nightmare," Capt. Jerry Leach said. "We had an individual making threats and he was heavily armed. We had to go up the stairs while Tina kept him distracted on the phone and basically, for lack of a better term, rush him before he could get his hands on a gun."
White telephoned the man and engaged him in a lengthy conversation which not only allowed Leach, IPD Capt. Dan Johnson and Lawrence County Sheriff's deputies Randy Goodall and Randy Rogers time to enter the room and diffuse the situation, but gave the depressed and distraught man something to think about: That even with its ups and downs, life is worth living.
"I just kept thinking 'don't let him do anything, I don't want to see this,'" White said. "You know, tomorrow is another day, with a different start. I know things can be bad, but that (suicide) would have been final. If you take your life, that's final. And that's what I told him."
White said in addition to her concern for the man and his family, she was also concerned for the safety of the officers who put their lives on the line, not knowing what they might encounter once they opened that bedroom door.
"Those are my captains (Leach and Johnson) and you don't want to see someone you work with get hurt," she said.
The man was taken to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital for treatment. Officers confiscated the guns and several live rounds of ammunition from the bedroom.
"In situations like this, law enforcement acts as a team and, in this case, she was the team leader," Leach said. "… If not for her actions, there is a high probability either an officer or the victim could have been injured or worse."
White shrugged off the idea that her actions were heroic. She said she was only doing her job.
"My job is to take care of the people who call in and take care of the officers," she said. "I don't feel like I did anything special."
Not so, said Ironton Police Chief Bill Garland. He praised White for her ability to remain calm in such a situation and her ability to show concern and empathize with this individual.
"Just to be able to do that, to be able to talk to this person over the phone and be able to keep him occupied long enough so that he knows she's not just blowing smoke but she cares, that says something in itself," Garland said. "She was a major part of the whole thing. If you don't have the ability to be compassionate and if you aren't interested in protecting and serving the public, there no sense in being here, in being in this business."
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