For someone who became a 9-1-1 dispatcher by accident, Michelle Balogh has done a stellar job in the last two decades, controlling many chaotic, stressful and heart-wrenching situations.
The Toronto Police senior communications officer was rewarded on April 13 with the Service’s Communicator of the Year Award.
Communications operators are a vital link between citizens needing urgent assistance and police, fire and medical personnel responding to calls for service. They are required to learn how to ask pertinent questions, give sound advice and process calls relating to a range of offences and incidents.
As a result, they must be attentive listeners, show good judgment and common sense, be critical thinkers and stay calm in a crisis.
“Michelle is a perfect fit for this role,” said “B” platoon operations supervisor Mark Florence who, with fellow supervisor Evelyn Lee, nominated Balogh for the prestigious honour. “A hard worker who is very dedicated to her craft, she brings a positive attitude to work and her performance is high and consistent.”
Lee concurred. “She’s an excellent worker whose quality of work is lofty,” Lee added. “She also sets a great example as a senior communications officer.”
A trained graphics designer, Balogh spent a year in the late 1980s working at police headquarters before relocating to Montreal.
“I was looking for a new experience, but that didn’t quite work out, so I came back to Toronto after three years,” she said. “I re-applied to Toronto Police because I enjoyed my stint the first time and was hired.”
Assigned to the Employment Unit to help hire dispatchers, it was evident to Balogh’s supervisors that she had the skills to be a first responder.
“Instead of working on the hiring process, I soon became part of the process,” she pointed out. “This is not what I intended to do and I got into this job by fluke. It just kind of happened and, 22 years later, I am still here, doing the job I quite enjoy.”
Balogh, who has 13 recommendation awards in her file, was nominated for a February 25, 2015 call she took.
At around 7.15 p.m., she received a hotshot for a hold up at a downtown convenience store. Three males armed with guns, wearing ski masks, robbed the store and fled in an unknown direction.
“That’s a call we take a lot, but all I remember is that I needed to relay all the pertinent information I had so that units could set up a perimeter in a bid to catch these guys before they got too far,” said Balogh.
The suspects were eventually captured.
“Michelle's experience and skills were extremely evident as she was able to anticipate the requests from the field while ensuring that everything possible was being done to assist with locating the outstanding suspects,” said her nominators. “While managing this serious event, she was still able to handle all other calls for service for the busy downtown desk that she was monitoring at the time for two Divisions.”
Tracy Finn, who started the Communicator of the Year Awards program 16 years ago, said Balogh is compassionate, professional, tenacious and welcoming.
“She also has a great sense of humour,” Finn said. “She’s just a well-rounded staff member who does a fabulous job every single day.”
When asked who she would dedicate the award to if presented with the opportunity, she unhesitatingly said it would be her mother, who passed away six years ago.
“I am graced with a ridiculous sense of humour that you have to have for this job,” she said. “I got that from my mother who, alone, raised four girls. She never let us stray and I know she would be proud of what I have been able to accomplish. She made me the person I am.”
Staffed by 231 operators, Communications Services received 1,797,896 calls last year, with 991,868 dialed as 9-1-1 calls.
Inspector Michael Barsky of Communications-PRIME said Balogh is a perfect ambassador for the Service and communications operators.
“Michelle not only displays the highest level of excellence in her day-to-day work, but she champions other efforts, such as raising money for cancer research,” he noted.
Five years ago, Balogh shaved her head for a cancer fundraising initiative that raised $13,000 to support a cancer patient.
Operational Support Service unit commander Kristine Kijewski presented the award to Balogh.