For dispatcher Monica Decock and Sheriff Alan Ronneberg, working in the Sweet Grass County dispatch office is one of the most fulfilling experiences they’ve ever had.
“It’s really rewarding,” Decock said. “You’re serving your community. You’re there to help those individuals.”
Decock has spent the last 20 years in various dispatch roles, previously working with the ambulance service and responding to search and rescue.
Sheriff Alan Ronneberg said the average number of daily calls to the office varies a lot.
“On a snowy day, we can have over 100 or 150 calls. On others, the phone doesn’t ring at all. It varies within a 12-hour shift.”
Ronneberg said calls typically range from minor things such as lost dogs and keys locked in a car to medical requests, shots fired, and motor vehicle accidents. However, he did share one of the most unusual calls he’s ever received.
“A lady came home from church one day, stepped out on her porch, and there was a skunk that followed her around and ended up licking her feet, for crying out loud. That was a goofy call.”
There are currently nine deputies on the staff, including Sheriff Ronneberg, who contract with the city of Big Timber to patrol the 1,800 square miles of Sweet Grass County and its population of about 3,600.
The county sheriff also does official brand and livestock inspections for bills of sale and changes of pastures for horses and livestock during a time when this service is starting to go away.
“You’re not seeing that stuff through many sheriff’s offices anymore,” Ronneberg said of the livestock inspections. “We’re one of the few offices that still do them. It’s still a priority with our office because of the service it provides to our community.”
There are currently six dispatchers on staff, but the sheriff’s office is hiring and would like that number to go up to seven or eight.
“The staff works pretty well with each other,” Decock said. “We have become a family because of how much we rely on each other. “Like any family, there are hard times, but everyone seems capable of working it out.”
“Dispatching is not what everyone assumes it is. It’s not just answering phones,” Decock continued. “We end up learning a lot about the Montana Codes Annotated and the laws in Montana and how they interact in the community.”
Decock also said the dispatch office gets lots of interaction with the public and other agencies, such as the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the Montana Highway Patrol, and federal agencies like the FBI and US Marshalls.
“It’s one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had,” Decock said. “In one day, you can talk to someone who’s in a really bad situation, the worst day of their life, and you’re helping them through that.”
“We’re never doing the same thing twice, but that’s what’s nice about being in a smaller jurisdiction,” Decock said. “Probably half the staff goes through the same things on our calls, so we have a very good support system within our agencies. They’re there to assist us when we need it through different programs and agreements.”
The county has teamed with policymakers to offer counseling services, as well. The sheriff implemented a phone app for peer support and community wellness for first responders. The app, Cordico, is tailored to the agency and is very extensive and constantly being updated.
“For instance, if I was having an issue and didn’t want to talk to someone locally, I could go on the app and talk to a counselor through them,” Decock said.
The sheriff encouraged all interested in a dispatch position to apply.
“Dispatch isn’t for everyone, but the for the ones that it is for, it can be the most fulfilling, challenging, and rewarding experience. We’ve tried to build a team through dispatch and officers that work together, and we’re working on adding more people to the team to serve the citizens of Sweet Grass County,” Sheriff Ronneberg said.
“We’re very family oriented in our office. We try to bring spouses, kids, and significant others into the family we’ve established,” the sheriff continued.
“This is the only place I’ve ever worked where I had a family emergency, and the boss just said ‘go.’ We care about each other’s families and the emotions that go with it,” Decock said.
“This office has been building for 20 years, Ronneberg said. “The former sheriff started it, and I want to solidify it.”
For those interested in applying, the sheriff’s office can be reached at (406) 932-5143, and Sheriff Alan Ronneberg can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.