Cedar Rapids dispatchers come together to support flood-striken colleague in Texas

Heather Ching of Conroe, Texas, and her father, Rich Pliska, and her son, Branden Ching, show items that were donated to her by the police dispatchers in Cedar Rapids. (Photo courtesy of Heather Ching)
Heather Ching of Conroe, Texas, and her father, Rich Pliska, and her son, Branden Ching, show items that were donated to her by the police dispatchers in Cedar Rapids. (Photo courtesy of Heather Ching)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Texas 911 dispatcher has a ways to go before she and her home and family fully recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

But support from more than two dozen police dispatchers — “her 911 family” — in Cedar Rapids is helping Heather Ching recover her life.

Ching, 43, a dispatcher for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and a resident of Conroe, Texas, is among the thousands of Texans recovering from Hurricane Harvey, the August hurricane that hit Texas and Louisiana and is the costliest U.S. hurricane on record.

Ching said she was “indirectly affected” by the hurricane when officials released water from the Lake Conroe Dam, north of Houston, to keep it from collapsing.

Ching’s home was among those flooded by that release and among the 150,000 properties affected by the hurricane and its aftermath.

“We got 8.5 feet of water in our house,” Ching said.

Ching lives upstairs in the two-story home with her 16-year-old son, Branden Ching.

Her father, Rich Poliska, lives on the first floor of the home.

While the upstairs was spared the flooding, the downstairs was badly damaged, and Ching said she lost most of her kitchen items.

Her father, she said, lost “everything down to his underwear.”

Meanwhile, Public Safety Training Consultants, which runs a program called 911 Cares, contacted the 911 center in Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids dispatcher Ashley Fields said the consultants’ email included the names of several “911 families” in need of assistance.

Fields and her colleagues decided to “adopt” Ching and her family, she said. “A lot of us related to her, I guess, and wanted to show support,” she said.

Fields and Ching corresponded, and Ching provided Fields with a list of items she most needed.

Fields sent the list to her colleagues, and the entire center — 26 dispatchers — responded.

Collectively, the Cedar Rapids 911 Center sent Ching kitchen appliances such as a toaster, coffee maker and a blender, clothing for her father, video games and headphones for her son and gift cards for Home Depot to go toward home repairs.

“A lot of us think of each other as family,” Fields said. “As soon as I sent the email out, everyone was like, ‘OK, yeah, it’s family. We’re going to help her out.’ ”

Ching said once the packages started arriving, she was blown away by the level of support.

“I think they recruited the whole town,” Ching said. “I’m just totally amazed at what they sent us.”

The flooding wiped out most of Ching’s Christmas decorations, and she still doesn’t have much furniture on the first floor of her home outside of some folding chairs and bar stools.

Crews are still coming in to fix her home.

Yet the support she’s received from the Cedar Rapids dispatch center has given her hope.

“It was amazing,” she said, tearing up. “It restores my faith in humanity.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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