Even if you’ve never met Christy McCormick personally, it’s a solid bet that you’re familiar with her work. As Evergreen Fire Rescue’s communications supervisor, it’s McCormick’s job to make sure every one of the up to 4,000 emergency calls that will pour into EFR’s dispatch center this year will be handled quickly, compassionately and professionally.
“I’ve been running the show here for about 2 years,” says Christy, who oversees 12 dispatchers and answers directly to the Chief. “We dispatch for Evergreen, Foothills, Inter-canyon, Indian Hills, Elk Creek and North Fork. I live and breathe this job. These people are my second family.”
Colorado born and bred, Christy started her first family with husband Kevin down the hill in Arapahoe County. While Kevin pursued a successful career as a police officer, Christy worked as an office manager. When the first of three children joined the McCormick household, she began studying psychology and volunteering in Arapahoe County’s victim assistance program. Christy’s cool head and instinctive empathy made her a natural for that demanding role, and it wasn’t long before colleagues recommended she take her talents in a new direction.
“They told me I should be in dispatch,” Christy says. “I started dispatching for Arapahoe County in 1989 and spent 12 years at it. I did SWAT dispatch. There was a lot of excitement there.”
Perhaps too much. Christy was at work in the spring of 1999 when desperate calls started coming in from Littleton.
“I was the only dispatcher on scene at Columbine. That was tough. It kind of made us re-think things, and we ended up moving to Conifer.”
And thence to Evergreen, where the McCormicks found their piece of paradise high on Squaw Pass. Christy applied for a dispatching job with EFR.
“I thought of it as quasi-retirement,” she laughs. “I thought I’d just do my job, take a nice lunch, finish my shift and go home.”
Alas, that’s simply not the nature of her calling. It was in 2003 that Christy realized it was time to put up or shut up, and she went all in.
Although Christy won’t be the one to say it, a lot of that impressive commitment was her own. During the legendary Blizzard of 2003 she spent five straight days and nights in EFR’s communications center, and only thought to go home when somebody else suggested it. The National Guard volunteered to take her up Squaw Pass in one of their heavy snow vehicles, which proved no match for conditions that March.
“They got stuck. We had to hike down two miles. Alpine Rescue ended up taking me home on a snowmobile. It was like a bad movie.” But one with a very happy ending, because Christy’s been the heart and soul of EFR’s dispatch center ever since, and Evergreen’s been much the better for it. Fact is, while a dispatcher’s job is conducted from behind a desk, the high-stakes, high-stress duties they perform can feel like the weight of the world.
“It’s amazing how emotionally involved you get when you’re talking with somebody doing CPR. There are times when you walk out of here physically exhausted from the events of the day.”
But there are also rich rewards that make the long shifts and psychological pressures well worth the effort. One of them is now nine years old and named Allysia.
“I got to deliver a baby over the phone,” she smiles.
The year was 2005, and the snow was falling in thick, downy blankets. The call originated at the top of Witter Gulch, and it was pretty obvious the ambulance wasn’t going to reach the scene any time soon.
“I’d always wanted to deliver a baby, and I was the only dispatcher on duty,” Christy recalls. “I said ‘Hah! This one’s mine!’ I think I was more excited than they were.”
As a dispatcher, Christy describes herself as a cheerleader – upbeat, supportive and, when necessary, as hard as flint. She’s been named Dispatcher of the Year by the Emergency Medical Service Association of Colorado, and was recently recognized for 25 years of selfless service – a quarter century measured in emergencies managed, help provided and lives saved. As to the secret of her remarkable success at a notoriously difficult trade, she credits long hours in a saloon.
“I was a bartender,” Christy explains. “It was the best previous experience I could have had. Knowing how to talk to people helps a lot in being effective at this job. A lot of the best dispatchers I know worked in retail.”
The McCormicks eventually re-settled on Upper Bear Creek, and when Kevin died 16 months ago Christy decided it was time to make a few more changes. For one thing, she upped her personal contribution to the EFR communications center to about 60 hours a week, a needed tonic for the pain of her loss. Much of her seemingly boundless energy is applied to training the next generation of dispatchers.
“We’re our own fix-it people. Because we’re small, the burden is far greater. We don’t have the resources of larger departments, so there’s a lot of cross-training. Our dispatchers have to be savvy about how things work.”
For another, she cut off her hair.
No, not all of it. Just two feet.
That’s right – feet.
“It was five years of hair,” Christy says. “I donated it to Locks of Love.”
It was just one more way to be of service.
“I love Evergreen, and it feels good to be doing something to help people in my community. You never see them, but dispatchers are so instrumental to everything that goes on here.”