Brittany Lemack was deep in sleep when she received a call shortly after 2 a.m. on June 12, 2016. A man with an assault rifle had opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office needed Lemack – a member of a special communications emergency response team – to come in and assist with the overflow of calls pouring in.
Lemack (’11, criminal forensic studies), who is dual-trained as a dispatcher and 911 telecommunications operator, spent hours on the phone in the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. For her work, she received a unit citation – one of many she has earned in her five years there.
Not all of her 12-hour shifts are that harrowing, but her job by nature is stressful because it’s all about calming crises. She has handled numerous suicide-related calls, and preventing suicides has become a passion for her.
“It’s mentally taxing sometimes to listen to people in their worst times,” she says. “But just being a support and letting them know you’re there … it’s a feeling I honestly can’t describe. When you get off the phone with somebody you have to honestly help, and you know you got the deputy or paramedic there to help them out, it makes all the difference. I love what I do.”
Her passion for this work started at FGCU, which she says she “raves about” to everybody who will listen.
“I feel like the professors I had were great – especially adjunct professors who came in from out of the field and knew exactly what they were talking about and had direct experience,” she says. “My classes included a lot of scenarios and projects, and prepared me for far more than I thought I would have ever gotten at a college.”
According to salary.com, her job is the seventh-most stressful, behind enlisted military personnel, surgeon, firefighter, commercial airline pilot, police officer and registered nurse, and can produce symptoms such as migraines, gastrointestinal distress, nausea and tension headaches.
So how does she blow off steam? Lots of video games – Robotic Planet is her favorite – and quality time with her dogs, Mowgli (lab mix) and Tater (pug/beagle).
“They’ve done studies that say that when certain situations come about, dogs can actually kind of calm your anxiety,” she says. “After the Pulse attack, they had trained dogs that were brought to the communications center. At home, they are part of my own stress relief. They’re comforting to me. They’re always happy to see me. How can you turn that down?”