9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Comm Center Career Path: APCO Standards & Training Can Help You Forge Your Way

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, December 2011

Written by Frank J. Kiernan III, member of APCO and director of emergency communications for the city of Meriden, Conn.

So, you've been hired as a dispatcher, a career that in some cases requires testing and training similar to that of other first responders. Now that you're here where do you go? Sadly, in most cases you are where you're going to be, looking forward to top pay and vacation pick seniority.

When I was first hired as a civilian dispatcher, our turnover was due to telecommunicators leaving to become police or fire personnel, moving to a career with established career paths. I myself spent two years as a civilian dispatcher before testing and being hired as a police officer.

During my career as a sworn police officer, I continually found myself being assigned to communications. The town had decided that civilian dispatchers were not working out and placed police officers in the dispatch center.

Many times, I heard, "Don't go in there. It's a dead end." or "It's a career killer." To understand where these opinions come from we have to look at the position itself: civilian dispatcher. Just the sound of it has a negative connotation. How many times have we ourselves said to the public or others, "I'm just a dispatcher?"

APCO and others have been working hard to rid the industry of this stereotype. We are not just a dispatcher of a civilian dispatcher. We are public safely telecommunicators.

We have established an ANSI National Standard, Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Telecommunicators, APCO ANS 3.103.1-2010. Having a national standard and meeting its requirements raises the professionalism of the public safety telecommunicator.

In the center where I currently work, one of the first changes I wanted to make was to establish a supervisor position for each shift. This required negotiation with the union, as well as establishing a promotional process. Since past practice had been that the senior dispatcher on the shift received crew leader status, this was necessary. Some of the senior people did not want the responsibility -- and with good reason: They received no special training. They got the position only by virtue of the fact that they had been here the longest.

Once the positions were agreed to and budgeted for, the time came to fill the spots. I wanted to provide the interested candidates with information to use during the oral interview, part of the process established to narrow the list of candidates. Our department provided each with a copy of current city policies and a copy of APCO's Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Communications First-Level Supervisor. The training standard for supervisor has helped establish the job description and provided a baseline for us to work from. It has established a clear career advancement path.

The standard establishes requirements, as well as duties and responsibilities, for a supervisor. According to the standard, "the supervisor shall have effective interpersonal communication skills and leadership qualities in addition to having a thorough working knowledge of the agency's policies, practices, operational activities, and telecommunicator skill sets...

"The supervisor shall demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of agency resources and capabilities, including location of public safety/service buildings, apparatus and equipment, emergency-management services, and facilities and emergency-planning documents...The supervisor shall be aware of and understand the opportunity of all employees to participate in such programs as listed below, demonstrating the ability to inform subordinates of these services and make referrals, as necessary [to]: 1) Employee Assistance Program (EAP); 2) Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)/Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD); 3) health and wellness programs; [and] 4) stress-management techniques.

"The supervisor shall fully understand the safety requirements of the position as required by the agency, appropriate state regulations and, if applicable, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

"The supervisor shall fully understand the impact of the ADA-specific requirements of PSAPs for equal access, as well as internal hiring and accomodation practices."

The agency has the responsibility of providing training to the supervisor so they can reach these basic supervisory competencies and agency-specific requirements, along with training in interpersonal communication skills and leadership.

To all of those who still say dispatch is a dead end or career killer, I say, "Not anymore."

I went from civilian dispatcher to police officer to communications training officer, and now I am director of emergency communications. I made my career path, and, now with the help of APCO International, you can direct your own.

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