Chris Null

Title: 911 Shift Supervisor
Department: Emergency Services
Started with County: 2008 (through 2012); returned in 2014

Share a little about your history working for Catawba County.
I started with the county in 2008. I worked in the Detention Center for several years, then took a two-year break and tried another career field that didn’t settle well. I came back to the county in 2014 as a 911 telecommunicator dispatcher.

What made you decide to come back?
A lot of it had to do with the benefits and the environment. With the county, no matter where you work, you have that environment of everybody getting along for the most part. It's more like a family.

What drew you to 911 in particular?
I've always enjoyed emergency services. I've been working in emergency services on and off since 1997, starting with fire and rescue. It's very rewarding. In 911, we're the last to be seen but the first to be heard.

Did you have to do any special training to work in 911?
When someone gets hired with no experience, no certification, they're with a trainer for a certain amount of time. They're given a training manual. They learn all the basics, from radio etiquette, to how to type if they're not a good typist, to communication skills. There are several certifications that you have to go through in order to do this job, and you are basically paid to learn.

What prompted you to decide to go into supervision?
The position came available. The third shift supervisor had retired. The second shift supervisor wanted to transition to third, and that left the second shift position open. I applied for it, tested, interviewed, and was selected by a panel of agency heads from different emergency services departments within the county.

What is second shift? What are the hours?
3:00 PM to 11:00 PM. As supervisor, I get here usually around 2:30. I coordinate with the day shift supervisor to find out what's gone on during the day and anything I need to pass on to my employees.

Share a little more about what your work as a supervisor involves.
Anything with administration involving my employees, from time sheets to scheduling. A majority of my job is scheduling. I coordinate when people can have time off, whether it’s for sick leave, vacation or training. I schedule the trainees, because if I have a certain trainer who is off during a certain time, I have to put that trainee with a different person. I do that as well as employee performance evaluations and disciplinary actions if needed.

What do you enjoy most about the supervisor role?
Leading people who don't necessarily have confidence in themselves. I have worked with so many people who have the potential to advance in their career, and they just need that push. They need somebody to say, "Hey, believe in yourself.” I try to show them that they’re capable of more. That is satisfying to me as a supervisor.

What drives me as a supervisor is being able to show my individual employees what they're worth. I've had some pretty rough supervisors in the past. Not here in the county, but with previous jobs, military, things like that, and I told myself I would never be that person. I want to be somebody they can come to if they have a problem or an issue, and if at the end of the day, when I go home at 11:00 that night and I can say that I was there to help them during my shift, it was worth it. You know? It was worth it.

What motivates you to work in this field?
Helping someone. Long story short, I went to Fred T. Foard High School in Newton. In my junior year of high school, we had a fire alarm one day. It actually turned out that a ballast in the light system had caught fire in the ceiling. It wasn’t anything major. A local volunteer fire department showed up with two guys. That was it. More were coming, but I went up to them because I knew one of the guys on the back of the truck. He said, "Hey, grab this hose and just stand here and hold it ‘til I move." So I did, and I was hooked. Ever since then, I felt a call to help people. In 2003, I joined the Marine Corps and I went overseas. I've been to about 30 different countries. I’ve just felt a need to help people.

What drives me to come to work every day is knowing that I can help one person. Because you never know. It might be one of your family members that needs help, and if somebody is not here to do this, there's nobody to answer that call. It takes a special person to rearrange your life and your lifestyle and your family time to be here to help the community.

I've taken calls where people have died on the phone with me, spoken to people in their last breath. I've helped coach people over the phone to deliver a baby or provide CPR, numerous times. It's part of the job. It's rewarding.

What kinds of things do you do as a supervisor to help employees cope with the stresses of the job?
We're a family here, and after a while we learn each other's behaviors. We learn each other’s attitudes and mannerisms. If one of my employees takes a stressful call, or what we consider a “hot call,” where unfortunately someone passes away on the phone with them or they are helping coach someone to deliver a baby over the phone, we all know it. We help each other out. I'll go to that employee and say, "Hey, take a break. Walk around. Breathe. Go to the restroom. Get something to drink, coffee, whatever." Most likely they’ll say, “I’m fine.” I just tell them, “Go clear your head. It may not have really bothered you at the moment, but once you settle down, it will.”

Tell me a little bit more about that family atmosphere.
We are we with each other for long periods of time. We talk to each other about family. We eat together on holidays here; everybody will bring a dish or we'll cater. Sometimes we see each other more than we see our own family. The family atmosphere helps with retention. It helps with morale. Sometimes there can be a negative environment no matter where you work, and you just have to try to make things positive.

Thinking about how the 911 facility is set up, everyone's at their own workstation. Each person is managing a situation that requires their full focus. The fact that you can do that kind of job but still feel really connected to the people you work with sounds pretty special.
Yes, it is. Let's say you're my partner, and you're at the console next to me and you take a call and I hear you say, "Okay, they're not breathing," or something dramatic. I’ll say, "Continue with your call," and I’ll take over dispatching it, getting responders en route, so that you can focus on lifesaving measures for that person, calming that person down. That’s teamwork. You really learn teamwork in here.

What do you appreciate most about working for the county?
Stability and family.

When you’re recruiting to fill positions, is there a particular background that you're looking for or could it be anyone who just has that heart for service, who has a desire to do this work?
We’re looking for someone who is willing to learn and has a heart to help the community. They have to have that click, that instinct that says, “I want to help someone."

If someone asked you if they should work for Catawba County, what would you tell them?
Absolutely. Benefits are great. Not only the benefits, the environment. I've worked with two different departments. I haven't worked in any other departments in the county, but when we have county functions, you see a smile on everybody. It's like a big family. That’s our culture. Even though we have a lot of diversity in the county, everybody has that common vibe. Even if I haven’t met you, it’s like we’re already friends.

Interviewed February 4, 2022