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Tote bringing joy during dark times for dispatchers

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ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- Several 911 agencies in surrounding counties are spreading hope in times of tragedy by using a simple storage tote.

 “We are the first-first responders. So a lot of times we hear those first cries, or somebody that wants to end their life, or somebody that’s dying, or we’re praying with them,” explained Gail Karas, Fulton County 911 director.

 911 dispatchers experience tragedies and stressful experiences every day.

“It’s just some tragedies are worse than the other, and they hit you home,” said Karas.

After seven of those tragedies, a simple storage tote filled with treats and goodies has been passed around local 911 centers

Dates are written in black ink on the lid of the container, keeping a record of heart-breaking events.

“When those events happen, they grieve. If someone is killed, or if someone is seriously injured, they grieve right along with our citizens,” said St Joseph County Fire Operations Chief Nancy Lockhart. “The whole 911 family grieves for each other it’s the thin gold line, and we understand it from a completely different perspective.”

The first trauma tote filled with comfort items was gifted to Fulton County 911 by Miami County Central Dispatch.

The date written on the tote is October 30, 2018 -- the day three siblings were struck and killed while getting on their school bus.

 “We decided to keep it going,” said Karas.

Weeks later, Marshall County lost one of its own youth in a horrific bus crash.

 “When Gail walked in with that tote it was just oh my gosh we were trying not to cry,” said Marshal County 911 Supervisor Matt Pitney.

Since then, surrounding 911 agencies have been ‘paying it forward,’ moving the tote from county to county when neighboring dispatch centers experience horrific calls or shifts.

“It means that someone in the 911 family is looking out, right that you’ve got support not just from your own work partners here and everybody here, but you have support in other agencies, and that is really really meaningful,” said Lockhart.

Most recently, St. Joseph County dispatch received the trauma tote after a mass shooting that killed one and injured 10 in South Bend.

 “There were hundreds of phone calls coming in, and it was chaos, people were hiding in the bar trying to stay safe because they didn’t know if the event was over. So they had the dispatchers on the phone with them in some cases until the scene was secure,” Lockhart explained.

That same day, on June 23rd, a tornado tore through the city.

 “We see our fellow brothers and sisters in the news, we know it’s time to send them a tote,” said Karas.

Just Thursday, St. Joseph County received their trauma tote and knew it was time to send it to Whitley County.

A carjacking in Plymouth led to a police pursuit on US 31 and ended in a crash that killed a Whitley County K-9 officer.

“We put all the stuff out for the dispatchers. One of our dispatchers went right to the store, repacked it and drove it to Whitley County,” said Lockhart.

Now, the tote has several dates recorded, and the plan is to keep the list going.

“I hope they don’t fill up, but I know that they will,” Karas said.

When that list does fill up, there are plans to preserve the tote some way.

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