Training Office of Emergency Management and Communications employees and instructors gather around a table on Friday at the OEMC headquarters on the Near West Side.
Five students were hired by the city’s emergency management office after taking a recently-formed introductory course offered at Chicago’s city colleges.
The new eight-week course was first offered at Malcolm X College beginning in fall 2022, followed by additional sessions at Kennedy-King College. The class produced two call-takers, one dispatcher and two traffic control aides, according to the emergency management office.
The partnership between the Office of Emergency Management and Communications and the City Colleges of Chicago aims to provide training and a class where students can learn skills required for potential life-and-death situations, from getting crucial information from panicked callers to coordinating first responders at a scene.
Joe Lanter, one of two call-takers hired, took the course at Kennedy-King College and described it as something that “wasn’t a high-pressure environment.”
“What you’re doing in that class really is about the first four to six weeks of your training [at OEMC], and you don’t even realize it,” Lanter said.
Dionne Tate, deputy director at OEMC, helped develop and teach the course and says the class gives those interested in public safety another avenue to join outside of the police and fire departments.
“No one knows what we do,” Tate told the Sun-Times. “I think this corresponds awareness to everybody.”
Dionne Tate, deputy director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, helped develop and teach the course.
During the class, instructors dove into each emergency department and their specific duties. Guest speakers from some of the departments also came and shared their experiences with students.
Fifty-five students have taken the course since it began in fall of 2022, according to Tate.
Years before Letanya Black took the course, she was interested in law enforcement. She even qualified to become a police officer. Her mother pleaded with her to not join the department, but she sees her new role as a call-taker connected to her interests.
Black, 53, said the first time she handled a call that ended with a person dying still resonates with her.
Posing at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications on Friday are (left to right) Laurie Taylor, hired as a traffic control aide after taking the course; instructors Leslie Kittling and Andrew Johnson and newly hired call-taker Letanya Black, dispatcher Melissa Mitchell and traffic control aide Spencer Rushlow.
“Being the first time, it was just a little hard,” she told the Sun-Times. “Now, just give me 10 minutes, let me get myself together.”
Black says she got better at coordinating with frantic callers with practice. She uses “repetitive persistence,” where Black “slows down” to get a caller in distress to give her the information she needs to pass along.
“At first, I was just as excited as they were,” Black said. “Now, [repetitive persistence] is my best friend.”
Melissa Mitchell, a dispatcher in training who was also one of the students hired, says training has been a “unique experience and a learning process.”
“It’s a matter of a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it,” Mitchell, 55, said.
Melissa Mitchell, who was hired as a dispatcher in training after taking the class, poses at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications headquarters on Friday.
For a direct link to a list of job openings at OEMC, visit www.chi.gov/oemcjobs.
Lanter encouraged anyone who doesn’t see themselves as the “law-enforcement type” to sign up for the class.
“People who want to help other people — this is a good job to do it,” Lanter said. “You’re that first point of contact on somebody’s worst day of their life, and if you do your job right, they have a shot of having a good outcome.”