"911, what’s your emergency?" The sentence is repeated hundreds of times each week inside the Carlton County 911 Dispatch Office as operators answer a variety of calls.
The short moment of silence is broken by a loud chirping sound of the phones demanding immediate attention. A dispatcher sitting at one of four desk areas in the office answers. Depending on the call, they look at one or more of the six computer screens set up at each desk.
Samantha Aman, 29, began working at the office in 2015. She earned a criminal justice degree and began looking into law enforcement job options. An opening appeared for a Carlton County dispatcher and she applied. She loves working with all area agencies as she provides an important service to the community.
“It takes the right type of person to do this job,” Aman said during a short pause between calls. The phone rings again and she answers.
She looks at a map on her screen to see the location of the caller. The person is driving on Interstate 35 toward Cloquet with two large dogs that she found wandering. The caller wants to know where to safely deposit the lost pooches so the owner can locate them.
Aman informs the caller that there is not an animal shelter in Carlton County and suggests the caller stop by the Cloquet Police Department to have the animals scanned. Other options are to call Animal Allies Humane Society in Hermantown to see if they can take them or post a photo on the "Missing Pets in the Northland" Facebook page.
She said the number of calls for found pets in the county has stayed about the same over the last few years. What has changed is that there is no shelter nearby to take them since Friends of Animals in Cloquet closed in 2018.
Lee Schelonka, 33, has been working at the dispatch office six years. He also volunteers for Carlton Fire and Ambulance.
“I like being on both sides of the radio,” Schelonka said.
The dispatchers shifts are staggered. Aman worked 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. that Tuesday, while Schelonka worked a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift.
Aman works at staying in shape by trying different exercise regimes to break up working 10-12 hour shifts sitting at a desk. In the summer, she gets out for a run when possible. She said most of the people working in the office do something similar.
While there have been recent new hires, it’s because co-workers are reaching retirement age.
“We’re happy here,” Aman said. “It’s a good work environment.”
By 7 p.m., the calls have been fairly steady for several hours. At one point, there were five calls within 30 seconds.
“We have to prioritize,” Aman said. “We answer as fast as we can.” The most urgent calls are addressed first, while the less urgent calls are put on hold.
Schelonka had an unusual call that evening. A man shed his clothes and ran off into the woods at Carlton's Jay Cooke State Park. Several agencies are called to search for the man on their ATVs.
Schelonka and Aman discussed the possibility of using the newly formed drone team to find the man, who had been missing for about an hour before the call came in. The agencies located the man, as well as his shoes and socks, in about 45 minutes. His friends had already found his clothes.
Schelonka listens to several officers at the same time as he types notes on one computer screen, keeps an eye on a map of the area on another screen, then runs a driver's license on yet another screen on his desk.
Other officers were called to a domestic disturbance. A man brandishing a gun drove away from the scene before officers arrived. Several agencies worked together to find the man.
Schelonka types furiously to keep up with the conversations. They are recorded as well.
There were several calls as officers made traffic stops and one for an inebriated person causing problems. During the summer, they notice more calls for possible drug overdoses and vehicle break-ins. In the winter, there are more weather-related crash calls.
Daytime calls are usually more annoyance and non-emergency, such as barking dogs and parking complaints.
“I had a call to find out what time the parade started,” Aman said of one call. She also had a caller ask for the correct time so they could set their clock.
The dispatchers advise teaching children their home address and their parents names as soon as possible. For non-emergency situations, dial 218-384-4185.
The dispatchers receive many accidental calls as well. Sometimes it’s a "butt dial;" others it’s a child playing with an old phone or an accidental push of a wrong button. Many times, the caller will quickly hang up after dispatch answers.
“Stay on the line and tell dispatch it was an accident,” Schelonka said. “That way we know it’s not an emergency and keep calling back to find out.”