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Q and A with Todd DeWeese

by: JIM CLARK, It’s Todd DeWeese’s job as a supervisor at the city of Portland’s bureau of emergency communications headquarters to keep his cool, especially when there’s a lot of panic on the other end of the lines.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

Todd DeWeese may be a 'Have a great day' kind of guy, but he rarely gets to display that attitude at work.

DeWeese, 40, has spent more than 12 years as a 911 dispatcher for the city of Portland. Now he's a supervisor at the city's bureau of emergency communications headquarters.

'People never call 911 because they're having a great day,' DeWeese says. 'Typically they're calling because it's the worst day of their life.'

Of course, the worst day in somebody else's life might appear slightly different to the rest of us. That includes DeWeese and his co-workers, who are a little hungry for something to lighten the mood in their roomful of monitors and dispatchers in Southeast Portland.

An average day brings about 2,200 calls from throughout Multnomah County and, DeWeese says, the center is short-staffed, so dispatchers pretty much take calls nonstop on their 11-hour shifts.

Portland Tribune: Forget the tragedies. What was your favorite call?

Todd DeWeese: One of our calls made it on to Jay Leno's show. Neighbors were complaining about noisy sex. The dispatcher had a sense of humor, and he used it to explain decibel levels and how noisy sex isn't close to a car alarm, how for noise complaints you have to get over a certain decibel level, which typically cannot happen during sex. People don't scream that loud.

What's funny is on that same show they had a 911 call from Washington County that described people having sex in their car as it was moving on the freeway.

Tribune: Was that an emergency in your opinion?

DeWeese: I suppose it depends on how recklessly they were driving.

Tribune: Any other favorites?

DeWeese: We've taken our share of calls from people reporting they were ripped off by prostitutes. They went to see prostitutes who took their money before the services were provided.

Tribune: And do the dispatchers turn it over to police?

DeWeese: The dispatcher says, 'Stop and consider what you're telling us. You're describing an illegal act. Do you really want to report this?' Typically they don't want to make a report.

Tribune: Ever take a call and stop a crime?

DeWeese: I talked a guy out of a shotgun. He called up having a bad day and was talking about killing himself. He was armed with a shotgun. After talking with him 15 or 20 minutes the police arrived and I asked him, 'Will you put the gun down and come outside?' After a little bit of coaxing he did that.

Tribune: This is a stressful job, isn't it?

DeWeese: It does take its toll.

Tribune: Who's better at it, men or women?

DeWeese: I don't know.

Tribune: Well, what qualities make someone good at this job?

DeWeese: A quick thinker. And a fast typist, a good listener, attention to detail.

Tribune: And you're telling me you don't know if men or women are better at this job?

DeWeese: We've got some people who are great who are guys.

Tribune: Are you married?

DeWeese: Divorced.

Tribune: That explains it.

- Peter Korn