As a dispatcher trainee, Rachael Payne was told it wouldn’t take long to know whether or not she could hack it.
It was an overwhelming first day on the job, Payne recalled — with so much to learn and so much to do, plus knowing how the job itself, impacted others — in some cases, even lives.
“Once I started, I couldn’t imagine leaving,” said Payne, a life-long Robertson County resident, who began working as dispatcher in 2003 and who took over as the 911 director this past May. “It’s a lot of stress, but at the end of the day, it feels good to know you’ve helped somebody.”
Payne, an East Robertson High School graduate, said it all began more than 17 years ago while volunteering with the Cross Plains Fire Department that she heard about job openings in dispatch.
The then-20-year-old and new mom of a three-week-old baby, who already carried a love for volunteering with the fire department, decided to go for it — believing she could transition easily into dispatching.
“I kind of knew what dispatching did because of my experience with the fire department,” she added.
Thus, began a long-term career.
Payne spent nearly two decades working in dispatch for Robertson County, answering emergency and non-emergency calls and dispatching the appropriate agencies to scenes — whether a car accident or fire; a critical medical situation; even emergency management incidences like tornados, animal control issues or HazMat.
Dispatching involves dedication, according to Payne, because someone has to be on the job at all times.
Occasionally, that meant pushing past the normal 40-hour-work week or having to miss Christmas or Thanksgiving days with relatives because duty called.
Despite numerous calls over the years, Payne said there’s always certain calls that one never forgets. She recalled a middle-of-the-night call came in from a stabbing victim — whom Payne stayed on the phone with while he waited in his closet for his attackers to leave.
“When the case went to court, I got to meet the caller. When I met him, he hugged me and told me that I saved his life that night by keeping him on the phone and talking,” she said. “It is times like these that you are reminded why you do this job. It is good to go home knowing you were able to make a difference and help someone.”
These days, however, rather than dispatching herself, Payne has been leading a team of dispatchers, the 911 addressing crew and IT personnel.
It’s a position she came to realize she wanted if the opportunity ever presented itself, which motivated her to obtain her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership two years ago.
Payne’s duties now involve working with budgets, supervising, hiring and writing policy and procedures, to name a few.
It’s been challenging, she said, learning everything, handling personnel issues or simply making a hard decision.
She’s not shy about boasting on the 911 team - including Assistant Director Jason Pentecost, all of the dispatch crew and the rest of the staff, saying they are what enables her to do what she does.
It’s all a team effort, according to Payne.
“I have been working toward this goal for a long time. I do miss being on console, and still try to do it whenever I get the chance so I don’t lose those skills,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, it has been challenging. There has already been a lot to learn and even more left to learn. Luckily, I have the best support team you could ask for.”