Each year, the Montana Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials recognizes one individual as the Public Safety Communications Trainer of the Year.
Dispatch centers from all over the state, in regions large and small, can nominate one person to be selected as the state winner.
From the winners in each of the 50 states, one person in the entire country is then selected to be the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International Trainer of the Year.
This year, that person is Gloria Malstrom, a 23-year veteran at the Helena 911 Center.
“I was pretty overwhelmed,” Malstrom said. “I don’t think that I do anything any more spectacular than anyone else who’s in this job and well-trained to do it.
“People are being submitted for this award from dispatch centers all over the country,” she said. “Places that are huge.
“For them to recognize an area like Helena is pretty out of the norm, I think,” she said.
Malstrom is extremely modest about the recognition, noting she has no college education and originally applied to be a dispatcher as a part-time job to provide her growing family with some supplemental income.
A mother of five and grandmother of 10, Malstrom has been a communications training officer for 20 years and, as such, plays an instrumental role in training each new dispatcher arriving at the center.
“I’ve been a trainer here for 20 of my 23 years and kind of helped develop the (training) program,” she said.
“We start out with a classroom situation where we teach them the basics about how to enter information into a computer,” Malstrom said. “We talk about call taking, different kinds of calls.
“Then a person is put with a dispatcher,” she said. “The first couple weeks is pretty much sitting there, watching and learning and listening.
“The last aspect of that is answering nonemergency phone calls and 911 calls,” she said. “I think probably the most difficult (part of training) is learning how to manage the many different tasks given to you at one time.”
When asked how many people she’s trained during her 20-year tenure, Malstrom said she wasn’t sure but that it’s been “a lot.”
Her supervisor, Peter Callahan, nominated her for the state award in May 2013 and was just as surprised as Malstrom when he heard she was selected for the national award this year.
“When I wrote it, I never thought it would go this far,” he said.
“When you’re in public service you don’t expect stuff like this,” he said. “Public service is about service before self.
Callahan said the award is especially honorific considering the challenges the Helena center has faced and overcome in the past few years, most notably the center’s move from its downtown location to its own building in the regional airport facility two years ago.
“We’ve been here two years, but to get here was almost a two-year project,” he said. “This award is the icing on the cake.
“It’s been decades since anybody in Montana has received an award of this caliber,” Callahan said.
Malstrom received the award Monday at the national APCO conference in New Orleans, where she has spent the past four days taking training classes, interacting with other professionals and attending a trade show for dispatchers.
She was thrilled to represent her local community and her home state on such a high-profile stage, but remained modest despite the honor.
“I feel like I represent the Helena Police Department dispatch center but also the state of Montana in the fact that we are all very well-trained and do our job to the best of our ability and have a good attitude about it,” she said.
“In a dispatch center, you work as a team,” she said. “No one person does any call by themselves.”
This story has been edited to include the correct title of the Helena 911 Center.