9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Lowly Dispatcher

The author of this writing is Anonymous.

I have taken great strides to make the world a better and safer place to live. I have taken measures toward fighting crime, but I am not a police officer. I have taken steps toward dealing with fires and similar hazardous conditions, but I am not a firefighter. And I have dealt with many medical emergencies, but I am not a paramedic of a doctor. I am a dispatcher. I am the first responder in most cases. I am the voice that gathers information regarding your call over the telephone, and I am the voice that relays that information over the radio to dispatch units to your call. I deal with many situations, ranging from simple problems to complex crises, and I am expected to provide the appropriate response to the matter at hand. Thus, I play a key role in dealing with incidents that arise.

Despite my vital function in the community, I am viewed by many to be the "lowly dispatcher." Many people call me for service, yet think nothing of addressing me in a disrespectful, demanding, or antagonistic manner. Contrary to popular belief, this approach does not gain a faster response. And neither does the ever-popular statement: "I pay your salary." When you report an incident to me, you should do so in a calm and intelligible manner. It's hard for me to understand you if you're screaming unitelligibly. And I can't help you if I can't understand what you're saying.

Because I'm usually the first responder, then I am the first person you should contact. Relatives or friends who live thiry minutes across town cannot help you as effectively if you call to tell them that your house is on fire or that you're having a heart attack so that they may in turn report it to me. And I also can't help you if you're carrying on simultaneous conversations or arguments with others at the scene. Thus, you should contact me first, and speak only to me while you're reporting the incident.

You should never assume that I know where help is needed. I cannot help you unless I know where to send the help. When I ask for a location, don't give me the name of the city, and don't just name the street. Give me as specific a location as you can. Use specific addresses or block numbers in the street, cross streets, or other landmarks that responding units can readily identify as being the correct location. Even if our phones are connected to screens that display the location you're calling from, keep in mind that our agency purchased them from the lowest bidder, so be prepared to give the location.

My job is to gather pertinent information to ensure the proper response and safety of all parties involved, especially the safety of responding units. I cannot see what you're seeing or hear what you're hearing, and I will not know what you know unless I ask the questions. So if you become annoyed when I ask these questions...too bad! My agency pays me to ask the questions, and my responding units rely on the information I gather.

At any given time, I may be busy. At times like this, I am usually juggling between the radio traffic from units in the field and the seemingly endless stream of telephone calls. This tends to raise my stress level, so please forgive me if I am not feeling cheerful when you call during this time. I may not care to discuss matters not related to your call, such as how the weather is or how I'm doing at that moment in time. I also may not be eager to perform tasks for you that should be done elsewhere anyway, such as looking up phone numbers or giving you the time and temperature.

Above all, remember that while the units in the field are handling one call at a time, I may be handling several calls at once. Everyone calls me for service, but many are not prepared to accept the service I give them. They ask me what they should do to handle a situation, yet they interrupt me by telling be what they're going to do as I begin to give them my suggestion, and their courses of action are usually nowhere close to what they need to be doing. Similarly, many people who call me for service act as if they're wasting their time by calling based on the notion that the agency can't or won't effectively help anyway. The point of calling for service is simple...don't ask for my help unless you really want it, and you're prepared to follow through using the correct course of action.

I answer all calls for service. When you call for service, keep in mind that I can generally dispatch units in terms of the volume of calls received, and the available units to respond to them. This means that I cannot always dispatch a unit immediately upon receipt of your call. I must also dispatch calls according to their level of priority. I can usually reassign a unit to respond from a lower priority call to a higher priority call, but hardly vice-versa, so don't expect me to withdraw an officer from a major crime investigation to ask your neighbor to turn his music down. I will have a unit respond to your call as soon as I can.

I make many decisions regarding the dispatching of calls on a daily basis, and because I must make several decisions, many of them are not favorable to some callers. You may not understand or agree with my decision-making process, but making threats to me will not change the fact that I must make these decisions. You can threaten to contact any of my supervisors, but the primary result that usually occurs if you do contact them is that you're telling them I'm doing my job. Threatening to contact a lawyer doesn't scare me because I hear that threat a lot, and because my agency has lawyers too. And you can threaten to contact the news media, but unless you can show a reasonable amount of proof of flagrant incompetence or lack of professionalism on the part of my agency, don't expect to get a lot of coverage. My decision-making skills are certainly not perfect. But as long as I can demonstrate that I followed my agency's policies, and that I dispatched the call in a reasonable and timely manner based on the reported nature of the call, then I am generally protected against liabilities arising from the incident.

Finally, I must say that I am a trained professional and I take great strides to operate as such. But regardless of my depth of knowledge, it seems there are always callers who think they know more about my job than I do. I do not call your place of employment to tell you how to perform your job duties, and I would appreciate the same courtesy in return. Remember that you're the one calling me for assistance.

I hold a powerful position in the resolution of incidents. Without me, there would be no response to your call for service. The quality of your response depends highly on the quality of your information, and also on the degree to which you're willing to cooperate in the reporting process. By taking the appropriate action based on your report, I can generate a response to preserve the health, safety, and general well-being of all parties involved in a given incident. Not bad for a "lowly dispatcher."

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