By J. Harry Jones, San Diego Union Tribune 

Before cops or firefighters arrive to answer a call for help, it’s the real first responders — the dispatchers — who have laid the groundwork for everything to come.

They go mostly unheralded and unappreciated.

“Nobody ever knows about them or thinks about them,” said Escondido Police Department Communication Manager Martha Ellis, who was a dispatcher for nearly 20 years before being tapped to head the department.

The Escondido dispatch center is unique in the county because both law enforcement and fire calls are handled in the same area. That means no time is wasted transferring calls.

At any time, three to five dispatchers are manning the 911 lines and dispatching police officers and fire personnel.

Annually the center — deep within the new and cavernous Escondido police and fire headquarters built six years ago for $61 million — handles more than 200,000 phone calls, an average of 23 an hour. Of those, roughly 60,000 result in a police officer’s response and 15,000 fire crew dispatches.