Jo Escher: Saving lives, sparking smiles

By Stephanie Rebman/NEMS Daily Journal

SALTILLO – Lee County’s scanner junkies know Jo Escher’s raspy voice and can tell from her inflections she’s a jokester.
But Lee County’s emergency personnel also know Escher as someone who can guide them to and through a situation behind her dispatcher post at the E-911 office.
Escher, a 51-year-old Baldwyn native, has been with Lee County’s E-911 dispatch office since 2007. However, because she’s been in emergency services all her professional life, she is well-known among the area’s EMTs, firefighters and police and they work as a team.
She started in 1981 as an EMT with the ambulance service, then in 1992 started dispatching for the helicopter service.
“I’ve been in some form of emergency service my whole life since I was 18,” she said. “I know these people like family. I’ve known some of the medics since I was 18.”
She said a mutual respect guides them through calls, and her toughest one was a helicopter crash in 2005.
“The worst call I ever had was when a North Mississippi aircraft crashed in Tippah County,” she said.
The pilot, James Archer, was moving the plane because it stopped in a flood zone, and the weather was bad. After just a couple minutes in the air, it crashed.
“That was the most trying time I’ve ever had as a dispatcher by a long shot,” Escher said. “This is the most challenging job I ever had.”
That night made a lasting impact on her and the rest of the team working.
“My responsibilities as a dispatcher went far beyond that chair, that helicopter, that family. The decisions I made that night made an impact. That affected us deeply. I never want to have to stand alongside a mother, daughter, child and tell them why I didn’t know where that person was.”
Some of Escher’s favorite calls to take, even when she was an EMT, are ones involving mental patients.
“Dealing with them is usually the most challenging,” she said. “If you talk them out of an active suicide situation, that’s a thumbs-up.”
However, if they can’t be talked out of it, dispatchers have to listen to the gunshot. They also have to listen to people on the other end of the phone being harmed, “and there’s nothing they can do about it.”
Dispatchers with Lee County E-911 work 12-hour shifts, with two days on, three days off. Escher had worked nights since 1981 until recently when they started swapping night and day shifts every two months.
Escher’s night-owl job lends itself to her hobbies: photography, writing and building websites. While doing all of those things, her 4-year-old blue heeler she picked up from the humane society is at her side.
The No. 1 thing Escher needs as a dispatcher when you’re calling 911?
“The number one thing to stress is for them to know their address or location.”
stephanie.rebman@journalinc.com