911 operator has made a tremendous impact in 28 years of service
Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – In the past 28 years, Deborah Raulerson has never been in the forefront of the most heart wrenching action across our county; she’s always been there working behind the scene. Even though few have ever seen her, she has had a hand in saving countless lives and tens-of-millions of dollars in property.
On Friday, April 14, 2017, Deborah will be the first emergency 911 telecommunications operator to retire from the Lexington County Department of Public Safety. In her career, she has answered millions of calls from people across the county who needed help. She’s dispatched hundreds of thousands of firetrucks and ambulances, and was thousands of police officers' first line of defense and their call for help while patrolling our streets.
Prior to working as a career employee for the county, Deborah was a volunteer with the Pelion Rescue and volunteer fire department. She ran EMS calls, and even learned to fight fires. Immediately, serving the community got into her blood. Eventually, she would pile up more than 28 years of total service to our citizens.
Deborah started working for Lexington County in the old communications room at the administration building on March 20, 1989. That center was in the basement, housed in a room approximately the size of a small company’s breakroom. Some teasingly called it the dungeon.
Back then, there were 2 or 3 dispatchers per shift. 911 hadn’t been in Lexington County very long, and everyone was just getting a feel for it. The small team of dispatchers took calls for fire, EMS, most municipal police departments, animal control, public works, the coroner, water problem calls, and answered the administrative calls for the county after hours. One dispatcher worked the fire and police channels and the other handled all the EMS calls.
In those days, all emergency addresses were looked up in a map book, notes were made by pen and paper, and the call times were received and recorded on punch cards like factory workers used when they clocked in at work. You held the telephone in your hand and pushed buttons on a console to key the microphone and transmit. A map had coverage areas drawn on it, and the dispatcher selected the appropriate stations, officers, or ambulances based on that.
Fast forwarding to today. Now there’s now a state of the art bunker at a discrete location that houses the telecommunications operations. It’s a hardened facility with a fence built to withstand armor driving through. There’s a high-security, limited access system that quickly screens anyone who tries to enter at multiple points. While you are there you’re always watched by cameras. Remember, this is where every call for emergencies is answered in Lexington County. Taking control of that facility would paralyze every part of our emergency services and control their responses.
52 telecommunications operators work for the department when it’s fully staffed. Deborah is a supervisor with the rank of captain. She would supervise 12 operators of various ranks and experience levels if all were on duty each shift for her assigned 12 hours.
Now, everything is done by computer. Each operator looks at 6 screens per work station. They have access to maps, multiple phone lines, dozens of radio channels, and computers that are linked to criminal histories and other records in several different ways almost instantaneously.
Now, all calls for services and employees of the sheriff’s department, fire, EMS, animal control, public works, the coroner, and others are funneled through that one facility. Annually, over 450,000 phone calls are routed through, and collectively, more than 100,000 requests for services are passed from the public to the people that can help each year.
As you can imagine. Deborah has seen it all through the voices she’s heard on the other end of the phone or radio. Although she treated all the calls with professionalism and respect, several tragedies, and a few triumphs, will be with her the rest of her life.
She remembers a call from a sweet elderly lady who thought she had might have a virus. She didn’t want to be a bother, but apologetically asked if an ambulance could come and take her to the hospital. Deborah stayed with her on the phone and got an ambulance on its way. When the ambulance crew arrived on the scene, the dear lady was in cardiac arrest. Deborah’s was the last earthly voice she ever heard.
In June of 1990, Reed Morton, a 14-year-old athletic, energetic boy, was helping his father and grandfather install a boat lift on Lake Murray near Irmo. During the project, an electrical cord they were using shorted out shocking Reed. He was in the water of the lake holding a metal beam when this happened. The first shock dazed him, but didn’t knock him out. A second jolt of electricity passed through the cord and that put him into cardiac arrest.
Deborah was working, receiving 911 calls when that one came in, the caller begging for help. She pressed the necessary console buttons and sent the rescuers racing to assist. According to published reports, a rescue boat from Richland County arrived within six minutes, and Irmo firefighters and EMS personnel arrived a few minutes after that. They all worked furiously, but doctors later estimated the teen’s heart had stopped for 10 to 12 minutes.
Rescuers applied two electric shocks. Finally, Reed responded to a third, but his heartbeat stopped twice more. Electric shock brought him back both times. Later, he made a full recovery. Reed was eventually accepted to play football with the USC Gamecocks, where he became a winning placekicker, kicking many point-after TDs and field goals. That triumph was later featured on the popular television show Rescue 911.
Deborah was working the hot summer day that BC High School caught fire and burned. I myself, the author of this article, and a former Lexington County firefighter, was there fighting that fire alongside many others.
She was also working the consoles the night a Lear jet overran the runaway at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The plane careened into the bank across Edmund Highway and burst into flames. South Congaree’s Police Chief Josh Shumpert, then a lieutenant, was patrolling the streets and arrived to find a trail of fire out across the highway, and the plane’s wreckage in flames. In that crash, Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, Adam Goldstein, who was also known as DJ AM, and four others were either severely injured or killed.
During her career, she has won more awards than I can list. She has multiple certifications, trained dozens of new employees, and taken a major part in the expansion of a service that’s vital to the citizens of Lexington County every day.
Somewhere along the way, she met and later married Kenneth “JImbo” Raulerson, a character in his own right. He’s known for his laugh, constant teasing, and good old country boy common sense. The two make a great team. Jimbo is a servant himself, having retired from the Lexington County Fire Service after 31 years. Between the pair, they have 59 years of public service to us. They have been married 15 years.
Now Deborah is hanging up her headset and stepping away from the action. She plans to take it easy a bit and enjoy spending time with Jimbo. They are active in their church in Swansea and comfortable just serving the community where they can. If you know either of these two, or the pair together, you know they won’t be loafing for long.
If you pass Deborah in the grocery store, you’d never suspect that she’s a hero; She looks just like so many of you. She was that voice on the other end of the phone when you collided at that intersection. She was that person who picked up the line when your neighbor’s house was burning at 2 a.m., she was the first one you heard when you needed help for every type of emergency, and the last earthly voice some ever heard.
She’s not the type to brag. Tomorrow, she’ll have some cake and punch, receive a plaque, and hear a few speeches. Then she’ll just be Deborah again, not Captain Raulerson. Just know what she’s done for you, your family, us all.