Large local Spanish-speaking population requires that emergency services utilize translators
Delta Digital News Service
Friday, Dec. 1, 2023
By Avery Jones | Editor
Emergency services, such as police departments, fire departments, and ambulances, often require foreign language resources at hand if they need to help someone who speaks little to no English. Bilingual employees can be highly valuable as a result.
In Jonesboro, this is especially relevant because of the large Hispanic population. While many Hispanic people can speak English fluently, there are also many who don’t.
The Jonesboro Police Department works most directly with Spanish speakers. According to Mary Oliver, who works in the records division, many people come to request a copy of their report or file a report, including Hispanics.
The records division deals with all of the paperwork that comes through, including accident reports, arrest reports, and tickets. Belinda Rodriguez, a translator who speaks fluently in both English and Spanish, helps those who need translation to communicate when they come to request or file a report.
“With the language barrier with the rest of the clerks, sometimes it’s hard to figure out their need, what they’re requesting, and so she fills that gap for us,” Oliver said.
They rarely get witness statements in Spanish since there’s usually an English speaker there who can translate for them if needed. However, on the occasions that this does happen, Rodriguez will translate the document for them when there’s a need.
Additionally, the criminal investigation division sometimes interviews people who only speak Spanish, so in those cases, Rodriguez translates for them during the interview.
“We have a large need here. We’re here Monday through Friday, eight to five…I would say daily, she is translating for us in some form or fashion,” Oliver said.
Before Rodriguez was hired in July 2022, the records division worked for several years without a translator. According to Fodor, it was a struggle, and they had to reach out to other resources in order to get the translation they needed.
Rodriguez is Hispanic and grew up in the U.S. learning Spanish alongside English. Even before she worked as a translator, she found herself translating wherever there was a need.
For example, she has helped people to communicate at the ER, the revenue office, and in a former job as a dental assistant. The first two instances weren’t in a professional capacity; Rodriguez says it’s in her nature to help where she sees it’s necessary.
“My mother struggled a lot growing up, so I know firsthand what it’s like to be in that situation,” she said.
Additionally, many Hispanic people are scared to file reports, according to Rodriguez, because they think that nobody will be able to understand them or even fear getting deported. She hopes to help bring in more Hispanic people, especially women who need to report domestic violence.
The police department also has two bilingual police officers who speak both English and Spanish fluently. One such officer is Corey Obregon. He has worked with the department for almost five years.
He grew up in El Paso, Texas, and only spoke Spanish in his household, so he’s fluent in conversational Spanish. In the field, he mostly speaks Spanish when dealing with DUI (driving under the influence) and domestic violence cases.
“I’m pretty much one of the people they call quite often,” Obregon said.
The other bilingual officer in the department is Homero Gonzalez. He’s been working with the JPD for nearly two years.
Gonzalez believes there’s definitely a need for Spanish speakers in the department. He’s been called to many different parts of the city to help translate and has assisted detectives with translation as well.
He meets people who speak little to no English at least once or twice during his work week. It’s usually during the evening when people are going home from work and mostly cases of thefts, accidents, and domestic violence.
“I find Hispanic subjects are more willing to give me information due to me being able to communicate in their native tongue,” Gonzalez said. “I can always see the relief on people’s faces when they find out I speak Spanish. It’s just one less thing to worry about.”
Usually, the only foreign language the department works with frequently is Spanish. However, they have occasionally encountered others, such as Romanian, Nepali, and Marshallese.
The department has a variety of resources they can use when confronting a language barrier. There are translators they can contact for help communicating, and some officers like Gonzalez use Google Translate.
There’s currently an incentive program in the works for officers who speak a second language. There used to be an incentive program in place but after officers tried to fight for a pay raise, it was taken away in 2015.
However, after the recent fight for a pay raise in the department over the summer, a new incentive program is being established. According to Obregon, it will be incorporated next year.
The Jonesboro Fire Department also occasionally needs to communicate with Spanish speakers. According to Martin Hamrick, the fire chief, they sometimes have to use basic phrases and questions when doing EMS calls, wrecks, and fires, and it can be difficult to communicate.
In cases where the individual speaks little to no English, the department has been able to get assistance with translation from the police or from another person there who can speak both languages. Mostly, the only foreign language they encounter is Spanish, but they have dealt with some Asian languages on occasion.
“But it’s definitely better if we speak one-to-one, we get a faster response that way,” Hamrick said.
None of the firefighters are bilingual, but some know basic phrases. El Centro Hispano, the Hispanic center of Jonesboro, offers a basic Spanish class, and some of the firefighters have taken it.
Because the fire department has to follow the civil service guidelines set by the state, they don’t offer any incentives for bilingual firefighters nor is it considered a requirement or advantage when hiring.
Emerson, a local ambulance service, also occasionally helps people who speak little to no English. In these cases, the EMTs usually communicate with others on the scene who speak English or use Google Translate, according to Eric White, who’s an EMT at Emerson and also works in public relations there.
The EMTs can also use a chart using symbols that the patient can point to indicate how they’re feeling. As a last resort, they have a number they can contact for translations.
Once at the hospital, there’s usually translators on-site who can help both the EMTs and the patient once the ambulance arrives. Besides Spanish, other foreign languages Emerson has encountered include German and Russian.
There are a couple of EMTs at Emerson who can speak Spanish to a certain extent. Having a second language as an EMT does come in handy, according to White, and is a standout skill on a resume when they’re hiring.
Note: Feature photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash.
Read more from the original source:
Local emergency services in need of Spanish speakers. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council