Just over three decades ago, while pursuing radio and television studies at Seneca College, Rob Agius saw a notice on one of the college doors for a Toronto Police Service Communications seminar in progress.
He skipped a TV production class to observe what the seminar was all about and was impressed by the manner in which 9-1-1 dispatchers are often called upon to control chaotic, stressful and heart-wrenching situations.
On April 11, Agius was honoured at the Communicator of the Year Awards, alongside Toronto Fire and Paramedic Services Communications Operators who earned accolades from their organizations.
“We are a large and dedicated team,” he said. “I consider myself lucky to be the recipient of this honour because it could have gone to a number of people.”
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.
In May 2017, Agius was assigned to call-taking duties when he received a call from a man in a mental-health crisis. The police were outside the man’s address to make an apprehension under the Mental Health Act. He had refused to leave his home and called and hung up on 9-1-1 several times.
Agius remained calm and patient with the agitated man. He developed a rapport with the man and kept the lines of communication open, for over an hour, as he engaged him in conversation to de-escalate the situation. While doing this, Agius updated officers outside the building as to what was taking place inside.
The man was eventually safely apprehended and taken to hospital for treatment.
“A situation was resolved because of Rob’s compassion and incredible ability to work with this man,” said Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon, who presented the award to Agius. “…He embodies our Service’s core values.”
Bestowed with the Communicator of the Month award four times this year, Agius has 29 award recommendations in his file during his 29 years with the Service.
He also has two teamwork awards.
In 2003, Agius and three co-workers were the recipients of a Teamwork Commendation Award for tracking an abduction victim’s location as she was driven to multiple places in and out of the city. Their excellent work resulted in the arrest of the suspect and the safe release of the victim.
He was also part of the group that won the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials Teamwork Excellence Award for the communications efforts required during the 2008 propane explosion in the city.
In addition to his call-taking and dispatching duties, Agius, has also found time to educate the public about the work of Communications Operators.
He recently volunteered on short notice to provide a voice-over for a Traffic Services video for pedestrian safety and was featured in a TPS news production filmed to inform the public about the types of questions a Communications Operator asks and why.
He was joined in the video by his wife, Deb Agius, the 2010 TPS Communicator of the Year Award recipient.
Dion Evelyn, unit commander at Communications, said Agius deserves the honour.
“He’s dedicated, caring, compassionate and simply a true professional,” said Evelyn. “I am proud to have him on my team. His character is second to none.”
Communicator Stacey Rotter concurred.
“Rob is the nicest person you would ever want to meet,” she added. “He’s calm, cool and collected.”
After nearly 30 years, Agius still enjoys his job and plans to do it for a few more years.
“I could count on one hand the number of bad days I have on this job,” he said. “It has been good to me and the Service has treated me well. I work with a great bunch of people and I still relish going to work.”
The Communications #1 shift, which was working the day shift on Valentine Day 2017 when Toronto Fire Services received a report of a fire at the Badminton & Racquet Club, were the recipients of their organization’s Communicator of the Year Award. Janny Da-Ponte accepted the award on behalf of the group.
David Laskovski was the Toronto Paramedic Services award winner.
A short video, We are 9-1-1, celebrating the work of the city’s call-takers and dispatchers, was launched at the awards ceremony.