Although Dominique Bonvillian has worked as a dispatcher for 22 years, she remembers her first 911 call like it was yesterday.

“It stuck with me because it was just so bizarre,” the Terrebonne 911 telecommunicator said. “It was over a guy in his back yard arguing with a neighbor about his goat. Who would call 911 over a goat?”

Although Bonvillain’s inaugural call didn’t appear to be a matter of life or death, she didn’t handle it less seriously.

When someone calls 911, providing a sympathetic ear is crucial, Lafourche Fire District No. 3 dispatcher Mary Rotolo said.

“You have to show empathy and compassion,” said Rotolo, who’s worked as a telecommunicator for 33 years. “You’re there for the caller. They become your main focus. Dispatchers are there in people’s worst times. They need someone compassionate and who understands what they’re going through.”

Bonvillain and Rotolo were among the dozens of local dispatchers serving Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes who were honored for their work during a ceremony at the St. John Volunteer Fire Department in Thibodaux in conjunction with National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which is held annually the second week of April.

Dispatchers representing Terrebonne Parish 911, Lafourche Parish 911, the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, Thibodaux Police Department, Lafourche Fire District No. 3 and Houma Police Department were honored for their years of service. A dispatcher from each agency was named Telecommunicator of the Year, except for Houma Police, which will have a ceremony later this year.

As a young Thibodaux police officer in the early 1980s, Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre remembered when dispatchers used archaic equipment to field their calls including a bulky device about the size of the podium he spoke behind.

“It didn’t have a screen, and it had this big manual keyboard,” Webre said. “It made all this racket like a typewriter that went a million miles a minute. Look how we have evolved. Look at the centers you operate and the amount of talent and skill it takes to do the job you do. I know I stand here on behalf of sheriffs and police chiefs across the country when we say thank you for the phenomenal work you do.”

Although the equipment may have changed over the years, a dispatcher’s dedication and importance has remained the same.

“All of us are judged by our first impressions, and you are the first impression of our agencies,” Webre said. “When someone is desperate, angry, threatened or irrational, they take out all of their life’s problems on you. But sometimes you are their only and last hope.”

Lafourche and Terrebonne dispatchers field an average of more than 100,000 emergency calls each year, said Terrebonne Communications District Executive Director Mark Boudreaux.

“We’re the lifeline of the community,” Bonvillain said.

2018 Telecommunicators of the Year

Kristie Solar, Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office

Martha Cortez, Lafourche 911

Jordan Gisclair, Lafourche Fire District No. 3

Michaela Verdin, Thibodaux Police Department

Kayla Byron, Terrebonne 911

2018 Supervisors of the Year

Marissa Dufrene, Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office

Rae Scott, Thibodaux Police Department

Leslie Doiron and Matthew Hanes, Terrebonne 911