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Colorado Mine-Tragedy Dispatchers Honored

HUNTINGTON, Utah -- It was a tragedy watched and mourned by people from around the world.

Six miners were killed inside the Crandall Canyon Mine near Huntington, Utah, when a roof collapsed in August 2007. Ten days later, three rescuers trying to reach the miners were killed.

Friday, emergency dispatchers from the Emery County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Public Safety's Price Communications Center were honored during a luncheon recognizing the top dispatchers of the year.

The Crandall Canyon Mine disaster was named the Dispatch Incident of Year. Dispatchers who worked without rest for two weeks, answering hundreds of phone calls from around the world, including frantic calls from concerned family members, citizens and the media, while still giving attention to other emergency calls not related to the mine, were presented with plaques for their efforts. The honors were presented by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

"It's real nice to be honored. But we would much rather not to have that happen at all," said Emery County emergency dispatcher Maureen Copatch.

During the constant barrage of calls dispatchers received during that time, some came from as far away as Japan and Australia.

Copatch says her office did what any other dispatch group would have done if it had happened in their jurisdiction.

"The hardest thing is we're such a small community, everyone was connected to some part," she said. "It was more than just work. It didn't seem real."

Even after dispatchers were done with their regular shifts, they would often go straight to the mobile command post next to the mine to continue helping.

Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guyman was on hand Friday to watch his dispatchers receive their awards and he praised the work they do on a daily basis.

"Dispatchers never get enough tribute. They never get enough pay. They should be classified as law enforcement and not civilians," he said.

Also Friday, dispatchers from the Beaver and Millard County Sheriff's offices, and DPS' Communications Centers in Richfield and Cedar City were honored for their work during the Milford Flat fire, the largest Utah wildfire in Utah history. The 2007 fire caused multiple freeway closures, evacuations, and contributed to the deaths of two motorcyclists from California. E-mail: preavyk@desnews.com

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