Language line helps people in Greenville Co. communicate during emergencies

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 10:57 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - 911 dispatchers are typically the first voices someone hears at potentially the worst moment of their life, but what happens if those two people don’t speak the same language?

“Greenville County is very international,” Greenville County E-911 Director Rick Blackwell said. “More international than most folks probably realize,”

That’s where the language line comes in. When someone calls 911 in Greenville County and speaks a language other than English, the dispatcher will call the language line, which will then find a translator for the person in need. We’re told the whole process can take a little as seconds.

“I think it’s super important, even when you speak fluent English. Like I know my dad, when he has complications with that, he will instantly go like, is there somebody there to speak Spanish or Portuguese,” said Estevao Marques Dos Santos.

Dos Santos’ family moved to the Upstate about ten years ago after living in Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil.

“A feeling of comfort. A feeling of being able to be heard,” Santos said.

Blackwell says the county has not heard a language that can’t be translated by the language line.

Over the past 24 months in Greenville County, 26 different languages have been translated, including Swahili, Farsi, and Thai.

“What a 911 call taker is concerned about is getting help to that caller as quickly as possible. So anything that helps, like the language line, remove any kind of burden from that caller is a good thing,” explained Blackwell.

The language line is also helpful to first responders.

Even with technology evolving, Greer PD Captain Patrick Fortenberry says there is an advantage to having an actual person translate the conversation.

“There are native speakers of those languages who understand the nuances when somebody is talking, the manner in which they speak. To be able to kind of relay that to the officer as their interpreting to us to provide context to what is being said,” he said.

According to officials, 911 fees pay for the language line.

In the last couple of years, Greenville County has also implemented a separate system where people can text with dispatchers in their native language.