An Ogle County dispatcher was recently recognized as the Illinois Telecommunicator of the Year, thanks to her calm approach and quick thinking to helping a young girl
Jennifer Hoffman,of Mt. Morris, a telecommunicator for the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department, was recognized by the Illinois Sheriff’s Association as Telecommunicator of the Year during the winter training conference Feb. 3-6, specifically nominated for her efforts in assisting 5-year-old Jaylee Armstrong, of Adeline.
Armstrong’s mother, Christina O’Brien, fell unconscious last June 28, and it was young Armstrong who made the 911 call to Hoffman, who was on duty.
Hoffman talked Armstrong through the situation, asking her the color of her house and helping her find the home’s address on a piece of mail.
Responders arrived to O’Brien conscious again, and Armstrong feeding her baby brother, Brantley.
Hoffman and Armstrong were both honored as 911 Heroes on Aug. 1 during Oregon’s National Night Out.
“The greatest thing about that entire event, in my opinion, was how many people immediately started training their kids on what specifically to do if they ever needed to call 911,” said Hoffman.
For Hoffman, though, the recognition clearly hasn’t ended.
“I was shocked when the sheriff told me,” said Hoffman. “I was honored he would think enough of me to nominate me.”
Hoffman doesn’t soak up the recognition and accolades, though. She remains humble, and gives credit to her co-workers.
“I’ve been recognized twice for the situation with Jaylee, but honestly, it’s everybody in my room and our center that does a fantastic job every single day,” said Hoffman. “They save lives every day. I’m really proud to work here, and proud of our team.”
Sheriff Brian VanVickle doubled down on the respect for the team, and said he’s proud of any chance for recognition of the staff.
“All of our employees do an outstanding job for the citizens in the community, and when you’re able to take an event like what [Hoffman] responded to, and put that on paper, and show recognition, that’s important,” said VanVickle. “It’s what they do day in and day out, and we’re lucky to be able to recognize [Hoffman].”
Hoffman, who has been a dispatcher for the past five years, spent the 16 years prior as a paramedic, starting in Mt. Morris and ending at OSF St. Anthony, Rockford.
“I started thinking long-term about my body; how much wear and tear we see as paramedics, and how badly I still wanted to be healthy and active for my family and grandkids in the future,” she said. “I started helping with dispatch, and eventually could make the full move to this job.”
Her husband, Nikolas, is a paramedic in Rockford, so her 8-year-old daughter Madeleine and 5-year-old son, Henry, will grow up with a family precedent of saving lives.
Saving lives isn’t always as rosy as the situation was with Armstrong, though.
Hoffman took the call from Ethen Shaw, 17, from the basement of the Shaw family’s home in Lost Nation, just after midnight on Nov. 21.
The Shaw family home had caught fire, and Ethen said he was trapped in the basement as smoke was filling the house. Firefighters arrived 17 minutes after the call, to the two-story home completely engulfed in flames.
Ethen, his parents, and three siblings all died in the fire.
“That was really tough,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman said her partner, Lisa Bloom, was there for her the entire time, helping her work through the situation and aftermath.
VanVickle and 911 Coordinator Sandy Beitel sent Hoffman to a critical incident stress debriefing the very next day.
“It was a common theme in the past to suck it up and do your job - to not really talk about things - but things have shifted towards getting us talking,” said Hoffman. “It’s not a critique, it’s a way to get your feelings out there, and work through them.”
Hoffman gave credit to her team not just as workers, but as her support group.
“I just come back to my community here with 911 - everyone circles the wagons to make sure you’re ok,” she said. “I love the work, and the people, here in our 911 community.”