Long-time Dispatcher Receives Recognition

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Longtime dispatcher receives recognition for handling of Northfield shooting

BY ASHLEY STEWART, Owatonna People’s Press

OWATONNA, MN — For nearly 24 years, Lisa DeRaad has connected residents calling 911 to law enforcement, emergency personnel and other resources as a public-safety dispatcher within Rice and Steele counties. But nothing could have prepared her for the call she received in August from Northfield.

“We don’t handle those types of calls regularly. Have we had shootings? Absolutely, we have. Have they increased in volume? Yes. Things are getting worse, but it’s going to make me choked up because it was difficult,” DeRaad said, tearing up. “In my career, it was the hardest one.”

On Aug. 14, DeRaad received a 911 call from an adult female shortly before 8 a.m. initially reporting an intruder in her home, but it was later confirmed by Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson as a fatal shooting that left 61-year-old Lilly Marie Kirckof dead, the Northfield News reported.

During the emotional call, the alleged shooter, who has never been identified, told dispatch that her now-deceased roommate had threatened to kill her.

According to documents attached to a search warrant obtained by the Northfield News last year, the alleged shooter claimed Kirckof “was going to kill her, because Kirckof thought the house was going into foreclosure.”

The Northfield News reported the 75-year-old woman reportedly shot Kirckof just before making the emergency call, the documents said. During the call with dispatch, the alleged shooter said Kirckof was upset, and because of that, she did not want to put the gun down, as she feared Kirckof wanted to harm her.

“We do take a lot of very stressful, very high-risk type calls, but this one was just, at the time, when you’re in it and doing it, you just think about the end result,” DeRaad said. “My number one priority is nobody gets hurt, particularly the officers … and thankfully that didn’t happen. Did somebody get hurt? Yeah, they did. But, you know, I was mostly concerned that nobody else did.”

In a Northfield News article published on Aug. 15, 2016, Nelson praised the dispatcher, who wasn’t identified, for the handling of the incident. “I’m proud of our dispatchers,” he said. “In particular, the dispatcher who took the call did an excellent job from what I heard.”

And it’s for that reason, the dispatcher — now identified as DeRaad — will receive the Make a Difference Award from the Minnesota Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials during a banquet on March 22 in Alexandria.

“You’re doing it and you just don’t expect that you’re going to get any recognition for it because that is your job, and that’s not the expectation,” DeRaad said.

DeRaad was nominated for the award by Jill Bondhus, Rice-Steele 911 Center administrator, with the support of the Northfield Police Department.

“Lisa has demonstrated time and again outstanding effort and exemplary attention to her duties,” Bondhus said. “She’s a great role model for the peers she works with … I really think everybody looks up to Lisa and looks at her as an example.”

The purpose of the Make a Difference Award is to recognize “the unforeseen or unusually challenging situation handled outside of the normal assignment of duties in which additional responsibilities handled were significant in making a difference in the event.”

“Lisa’s line of questioning during this call and direction provided to the caller had an ultimate outcome on the call for the investigation portion for the agency,” Bondhus said. “I also think during the call that Lisa’s number one priority was the safety of the responders.”

DeRaad of Albert Lea started as a dispatcher at the Steele County Detention Center in the early 1990s, and prior to the creation of the Rice-Steele 911 Center in May 2000, she worked for dispatch in Faribault and Northfield.

“You don’t think at that age … ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to be in this field forever.’ You just don’t think that, and now, here I am,” she said. But it’s because DeRaad has enjoyed her job that she remains.

“I do love it,” she said. “There’s an excitement to it. Every day is different, and the thing I like about it, I don’t have work to take home. I try not to let all the calls I take during the day bother me. “

DeRaad said as a dispatcher, you hear from people when “they’re at their worst. They’re upset. They’re angry. They’re sad, heartbroken or whatever the case may be,” and it’s her job to get help as quickly as possible, but you don’t always hear how the situation turned out. “It’s always kind of open-ended,” she said.

DeRaad said she couldn’t do her job without the support of administration, her co-workers and law enforcement, using words like “key” and “crucial” to describe them.

“It’s a team effort,” she said. “We like to work as a team and that makes things go a lot more smoothly.”