New 911 director putting his broadcasting skills to good use

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — As a freshman at Anderson University in 2003, Brent Jensen’s goal was to earn a degree in mass communications and become a radio or television broadcaster.

He left school in 2005, but stayed in Madison County, that July he joined the Chesterfield-Union Township Fire Department, five months later began working as a dispatcher for the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. He worked for two local radio stations on the side.

And he’s still putting those radio skills to good use; only his broadcasts are beamed to a select audience of police, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and emergency medical service staff.

Jensen, 33, eventually earned a degree in business administration at Western Governors University and continued working in emergency communications. He supervised the training of new dispatchers, and when communications consolidated into one agency, was named assistant director.

In December, after the departure of Nick Capozzoli, Jensen was named director of the $1.2 million Madison County Central Dispatch Center on Delaware Street.

The center is responsible for dispatching 13 fire agencies in Madison County and 14 police agencies.

“Even when I wanted to go into broadcasting, I was all about helping other people,” he said. “This gives me purpose I would say, because without the ability to help other people, and without having a chance to make a difference, what am I really here for?”

And working in emergency communications helps him serve that larger purpose, Jensen said.

“911 dispatchers, they’re really the first, first responders . . . we run the gamut of helping people locked out of their cars in a snowstorm to somebody that walks in a finds their grandparents dead, to somebody that is giving birth to a child, and all that can happen on the same shift,” he said.

“You know, there is excitement there, but it’s more about making a difference for the people that need help,” Jensen said.

The first 911 call was made 50 years ago in Haleyville, Ala., according to news reports and historical accounts.

“It’s really hard for us to imagine what life was like before you had 911,” Jensen said.

But he has a clear recollection of how difficult emergency communications were just a few years ago in Madison County before consolidation in 2015.

He described a patchwork quilt of different radio systems where different fire departments and police agencies couldn’t talk with one another.

Jensen grew up in Lebanon, Missouri near Lake of The Ozarks, He was an active Boy Scout and became an Eagle Scout shortly before his 18th birthday.

When he was 14, Jensen became a cadet firefighter with the Bennett Springs Fire Department in Lebanon, also a program sponsored by Boy Scouts.

“Scouts really pushed me in this direction,” he adds.

Looking forward, Jensen said he wants to continue fine tuning the consolidation of emergency dispatch, and embark on a public education program to promote the responsible use of 911.

In addition, the county is seeking a $300,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to implement a text-to-speech dispatch protocol for county fire departments.

Such a system would allow a dispatcher to type in the correct equipment to send on a particular run, but have an automated computer voice broadcast the information. That would free up the dispatcher to handle other communications.

“That may save 30 to 60 seconds,” Jensen said. “That may not sound like much, but a fire can double in size in that amount of time.”