9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Dispatcher and the Spanish Caller

The phone rings. You answer. "Matele! Matele!" (in the background) "Socorro! Socorro! No dispare!" (from the caller). You, as the dispatcher, need to try and take some control of this call, but what are they saying? You might try and calm the caller down and simply ask if they speak English.

Because you have absolutely no bilingual skills, you begin your attempt to transfer the call to a language line service. While you are giving the Pin number to the service and being connected with the appropriate translator, the caller disconnects before an address can be obtained.

This scary, but realistic scenario is the type of situation telecommunicators train for. However, there is generally no training provided to handle the bilingual caller except to push a button and transfer the call to an outside service. These types of services are a great asset to our profession and should be utilized if time permits. As with the above call scenario, the possibility of a tragedy due to a language barrier is very real. As with any emergency call, seconds become very valuable.

It is often taken for granted that the callers on the other end of the telephone will be able to communicate with us in English. With Spanish being the "second language" it is no wonder that people with some bilingual skills are very martketable in the work place. Especially the jobs that require a large volume of public contact. Having the tools and the desire to learn a second language will not only make you more confident, but will also allow you to help a larger group of citizens.

Goals, Objectives

The first step toward learning bilingual skills is to determine what your goals and objectives are. Do you have the desire to learn a foreign language? Do you want to become fluent? What language do you want to learn? Do you have the time to attend a college course? Do any colleges offer specialized courses that pertain to your field? Are there any manuals or books that will help you and the job as needed? How will learning bilingual skills benefit your career? How much time can you devote to learning this new skill? These are just a few of the questions that you should think about.

In conclusion: It is a reality that bilingual services and skills are required in the emergency services field. Obtaining the knowledge to communicate in a foreign language is often a difficult task for emergency dispatchers. There are not many books, manuals, or courses dedicated to our profession. The vast majority of foreign language coursess and materials available are written for the patrol officer, paramedic, or firefighters. There is a definite need for more specialized bilingual training within the telecommunications profession.

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