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Imagine dialing 911 to report an emergency. Many of us have had to do it. Some of us more than others. It can be a stressful and chaotic time for many different reasons. Maybe you witnessed a car accident. Or your neighbor collapsed in the front yard. Or you wake up in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke and realize your home is on fire.

When you make that call, it starts a very important process that ultimately brings first responders to the location of the emergency. The voice you hear on the other end of the line will be calm, cool and collected. The operator will ask you some questions like, “What’s the address of your emergency?” and “What’s going on there?” Your responses help the operator determine exactly who to send to help. Police? Fire? Emergency medical services? Everyone? The operator has to get as much information as possible from the caller as quickly as possible so the response can move to the next step. Asking the right questions and getting the important information from a frantic caller can be very challenging and stressful.

The 911 operator (or “telecommunicator”) is the link between the public and our first responders. They are so vitally important to the process — and that’s the reason the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the State Fire Marshal have made it a priority to not only standardize the training they receive in Indiana, but to also offer additional training opportunities for our telecommunicators. And in more locations around the state.

IDHS has teamed up with the Indiana Statewide 911 Board to develop and administer training unlike anything Indiana has ever seen or offered for telecommunicators. Leveraging these types of partnerships to develop and administer specialized trainings around the state will become more commonplace as we work to expand what’s offered to our responders. The Indiana Fire and Public Safety Academy Training System was developed and codified in Indiana Code in 2015 for this very purpose — to expand the network and subject matter of the training offered to our firefighters, EMS personnel, emergency management officials, telecommunicators, and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives personnel.

Developing new training standards, curriculum and courses will only get our first responders so far. They also need the ability to practice these techniques in a real-world scenarios. The hands-on or practical skills training is just as important as the time spent learning in a classroom.

In northern Indiana, the partnership between IDHS and the McMillan Family Foundation helped develop the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative, which has been charged with developing training opportunities for firefighters, police officers and EMS. The MAAC achieves this through combined classroom and practical application programs that provide advanced levels of critical thinking and functioning in preparedness and response. It’s a tremendous partnership and has become a model framework for the future of the Public Safety Academy.

The last few years have been very exciting for Indiana responders. And 2018 is shaping up to be the best year yet with new classes, new executive leadership training, new standards and curriculum and new training locations throughout Indiana. We are blessed to have so many dedicated and talented Hoosiers who serve their communities as first responders. Our job is to make sure they have the tools and support they deserve to be effective and remain safe while responding.

Bryan J. Langley, Executive Director, Indiana Department of Homeland Security and James L. Greeson, State Fire Marshal, Indiana Department of Homeland Security. The opinions are the writers'.

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Senior Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.