9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Reminder: "The Golden Rule"

Taken from blog by author on LinkedIn, Sept. 16, 2014
Written by Steve VanDyk, 9-1-1 Emergency Communications and Public Safety Expert

I'm often asked if I miss the "action" of the job.  I'm referring to the adrenaline rush you get when your direct involvement makes a difference by helping someone, or saving a life.  Maybe it's the speed in which you ask your questions and enter the call to be dispatched.  Maybe it's the speed in which you co-ordinate your emergency responders.  Whatever the reason is - I know we all agree that the rush of adrenaline is a pretty cool feeling.  That's one thing we all have in common - whether you work for Police, Fire or EMS.

The job of a 9-1-1 dispatcher - for the most part - is comprised of hours of boredom filled with spikes of adrenaline.  Consider for a moment - the person on the other end of the line.  You're not the only one that has that rush of adrenaline.  Most people don't make a habit of calling 9-1-1.  The majority of people that call 9-1-1 do it when they are going through a traumatic life event.  Adrenaline affects everyone differently; it's known to affect your breathing, your vision and most definitely, your memory.

How often do you get frustrated with the public?  Have you ever had a caller report they were held up at gunpoint but unable to give a description?  Have you ever had a caller who was just so hysterical - they were unable to provide their location?

Put yourself in their shoes and consider the stress that they are under.  Someone just pointed a gun in their face.  A family member or other loved one is missing - or maybe injured.  We need to expect that it may take a little longer to get the information we require.

A few years ago - I taught a new hire class: "Call Taking 101."  I was reminding the class about how to speak to the public - but also how to take a proper description.  You know this: gender, race, age, height, weight, followed by description head to toe.  On this particular day I had a co-worker whom the class never met, interrupt my class.  It was staged.  He came into my classroom and handed me a blank note.  I thanked him and proceeded to introduce him to everyone.  We made some brief small talk and he then excused himself and left the room.

I reviewed the information with the class one more time and then told them they were going to do a little exercise.  I asked them all to take a few minutes and to independently write down a description of my friend that had just left - in the format they just learned.  After a few minutes I asked them to put their pens down and handed out a picture that I had taken of my friend earlier in the day and asked them to read back their descriptions one at a time.

The result: Four drastically different descriptions of the same person.

None of them were under any stress at the time.  None of them had a gun or a knife being pulled on them.  The room went quiet.  They gave me the deer-in-the-headlight look.  Point made.

How patient are you with the public?  How would you expect to be treated if you ever had to call 9-1-1?  Do you remember being taught the golden rule as a child?  I do.  A more modern translation today would be something like this: "treat others the way you would want to be treated."  This would apply to every call we answer.

Let me leave you with this:

"It is your job to control the situation - it is your job to be calm for those that can't be."

Take pride in what you do.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.  This isn't a new concept - but you already know that - you just needed a reminder.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Be the Best You Can Be: Preparing to Move Up the Ladder

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, September 2014
Written by Crystal McDuffie, RPL, ENP, Communications Center & 9-1-1 Services Manager for APCO International.  She has more than 18 years of public safety communications experience, in addition to serving as an EMT-Paramedic.

Whoever you are, whatever position you hold, you should always strive to be the best.  As anyone in public safety is aware, there are several different roles within an emergency communications center.  Many roles carry  multiple responsibilities and almost all of them require working together as a team while exceling as an individual.

Let's begin with the role of telecommunicator.  Do you know what the minimum training entails?  What core competencies should you have to be successful?  It really isn't just being able to answer the phone, or dispatching a unit; there's far more to it.

Then there's the role of the communications training officer (CTO).  It's not merely passing along what you know or demonstrating how to complete a task.  There are other questions, especially when it comes to evaluations:  When should you do them?  How often?  How do you ensure you are both fair and consistent?

Does your agency hold initial (basic) training or in-service topics?  Those instructors need to meet specific training requirements to ensure their delivery of the course is successful.  Does the instructor understand the adult learning principles?  What method works the best for training adults?

Moving on to quality assurance evaluators (QAE), that's another set of training and competencies necessary to evaluate a comm center's quality of service.  Does that person understand how to deliver constructive feedback and when necessary?  What about recommending remedial training?

Supervisors and managers are no longer promoted based on the fact that they have been there the longest or are a really good telecommunciator.  While it's great to be strong operationally, there are other facets of the job that need to be mastered.

So how does one find the answers to all these questions?  APCO International provides members of the emergency communications profession with core competencies and  minimum training requirements, along with the skills and knowledge necessary for each of the positions I've mentioned.  Each of the applicable APCO standards specifies in detail the information that each of these roles need to know to successfully perform in their position.

Let's look specifically at the standards for supervisor and manager/director.  Beyond operations, we must ensure that we follow all applicable state and federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Fair Labor Acts, just to name a couple.  What about that budget?  Money really doesn't grow on trees and every dollar spent has to be planned and accounted for.

Another aspect is communicating effectively with other agencies, organizations or resources that are utilized in ensuring you deliver a quality service.  That quality of service must then be maintained and evaluated.  Let's not forget about training: training of new hires, continuing education, remedial training, and on and on.

The leadership qualities and training of supervisors and managers affect many aspects of the communications center.  There are many tasks that must be completed, from budgets to scheduling, from training to resolving conflicts between staff.  Management plays an important role in employee hiring and retention.  If the supervisor or manager does not do a good job as a leader, retention will suffer.

How do you prepare yourself for the responsibility of being a supervisor or manager?  What classes will you take to prepare yourself for these roles?

Standards such as APCO ANS (American National Standard) 3.102.1-2012 Core Competencies and Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Communications Supervisor, and 3.109.2-2014 Core Competencies and Minimum Training Standards for Public Safety Communications Manager/Director have established specific competencies and skills that are needed for leadership roles in communications.  These standards are intended to provide a consistent foundation of knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to fulfill the critical leadership function.

In the popular leadership book by John C. Maxwell, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, quality number ten is "Initiative."  Similarly, Conrad Hilton, has been quoted as saying, "Success seems to be connected with action.  Successful people keep moving.  They make mistakes, but they don't quit."  To keep moving is the key, whether you're enhancing your readiness for a promotion or simply striving to be the best that you can be in your current position.

The environment of public safety communications is ever-changing and evolving; technology is moving at a speed that makes it difficult to keep up.  It is imperative that, in any role, we maintain and improve our own knowledge and skills.

Moving ahead in your career is an admirable step to consider.  APCO International provides a number of standards and resources to help you prepare.  Becoming familiar with these standards, and learning the requirements and attributes of successful leaders in this profession will help you answer the fundamental question we must all ask ourselves as we advance in our career:  Are you ready?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Negative Retention: Pattern of Complaints Spells Trouble for Comm Center

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, September 2014
Co-Written by Linda "Lin" Ford, APCO Life Member and a member of the North Carolina, Texas and Mid-Eastern Chapters.  She is a retired telecommunicator from Greensboro, N.C. and has been involved in public safety communications for more than 30 years.  She is a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee and a past APCO historian.  Co-written by T.G. Mieure, who is also an APCO Life Member and a member of the Illinois Chapter.  He has been involved in public safety communications for more than 40 years and is a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee.

Our case study this month is actually a combination of several incidents that came together resulting in the loss of life, a disclosure of major problems in a 9-1-1 center and the loss of two jobs.

The initial spark that began the fire-storm was a call for help from complainant Kristine Kirk to Denver Police Department 9-1-1, stating that her husband had eaten marijuana candy, started hallucinating and was asking her to get a gun and shoot him.  The calltaker entered the call for dispatch at 9:31.  The police dispatcher (a different person) then broadcast over the police radio the information:  "332 Adam.  2112 South St. Paul Street on a report of a domestic violence in progress.  RP versus her husband who's been smoking marijuana."

Around the same time, the calltaker who was still speaking with Kristine Kirk wrote: "Weapon in house--handgun."

By now the dispatcher has sent an officer on what was believed to be a routine welfare check.  At first there is no sense of urgency.  "Be advised they do have a handgun in the house, but it's not in anybody's possession," the dispatcher said over the radio.  Five minutes later, at 9:36, the calltaker noted:  "Husband talking about end of world/life."

It's clear from the records that the caller was scared by this time.  The calltaker even noted, "The children in room with door closed."  Then at 9:43, the calltaker wrote that Richard Kirk, the husband and suspect in the shooting, was in the safe getting the gun.  The calltaker also noted that they heard the wife screaming.

A minute later, at 9:44 p.m., there is nothing heard and the phone line is open.

The investigation that followed debated whether proper procedure was followed -- looking at why the dispatcher never aired over the radio what she was reading from the calltaker on the call screen.  On one of the radio reports, you can hear the first officer on-scene at 9:45 learning about what happened by reading the computer screen in his patrol car.

Officer:  "332 Adam."
Dispatcher:  "332 Adam go ahead."
Officer:  "Yeah, according to the notes he grabbed the gun and she's screaming and the line disconnected.  Can you speed up cover?"

By this time the officer was two minutes too late.  Police say Richard Kirk had already shot his wife in the head when they arrived, and that he admitted to pulling the trigger.

The question remains if officers had rushed to the scene as the situation escalated, would they have been able to prevent Kristine Kirk's death?  The dispatcher resigned under threat of being fired for failing to give verbal updates on the serious remarks from the calltaker and instead just letting the notes go to the mobile unit, which had apparently been reported to have a problem.

As a direct result of this tragic incident, the investigation revealed that 60 previous complaints had been filed against the agency on various charges.  The one most germane to this article involved a second dispatcher and not one but two homicides in which critical errors were made and never corrected or punished -- thus resulting in negligent retention of an employee and a massive lawsuit.

On April 1, 2012, Denver 9-1-1 telecommunicator Juan Jesus Rodriquez answered a frantic call from Ran Pal.  He said a group of men driving a Jeep Cherokee threw a beer bottle through the back window of his car and began yelling racial slurs.  Pal also told Rodriquez he thought the men had a gun.

The call transcript details that the victims were scared and in shock, but were able to get to an apartment complex in Wheat Ridge, seven blocks outside of Denver city limits.

"Yeah that's going to be...outside of Denver.  I need you to come back into Denver so we can take a report," Rodriquez told Pal.

Pal asked Rodriquez several times if an officer could come to the apartment because he was trying to recover from the attack, but the calltaker insisted that Pal go back into Denver to file a police report.  The investigation later revealed that Rodriquez could have sent a Denver officer to the apartment location outside of city limits.

The caller followed instructions, returned to Denver and waited at the intersection of West 29th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard with his hazard lights on .  The suspects in the Jeep returned before police could arrive.

After yelling "they're back, they're back," Pal told Rodriquez that his brother, Jimma Reat, was down.  "They hit Jimma," Pal said.

One minute after Reet was shot, Rodriquez dispatched an officer for the first time, more than 12 minutes after Pal called 9-1-1.

Rodriquez's 20-page termination letter said the telecommuicator failed to "decipher the situation" and despite the fact that the "caller stated six separate times that he was injured, in shock and didn't want to drive and needed time to recover," he still insisted the men return to Denver.  Rodriquez "showed a blatant disregard for the caller's health in your quest to have the caller return to the city of Denver," the termination letter states.

His termination also uncovered another complaint against Rodriquez in which he handled a call from a teenager who said he just killed his mother's boyfriend.  That call took place a little more than a month before Reat was shot and killed.

CALL ERROR, FEB. 29, 2012
The 9-1-1 call that spurred the first complaint against Rodriquez started with a juvenile caller admitting to have killed a man.  "He started to get aggressive and he forced my mom on the floor and I choked him out, but I don't know how long I choked him out for; I think I killed him," the caller told Rodriquez.

Instead of sending help, Rodriquez spent more than five minutes trying to get an exact address for the apartment building where the incident happened.  The 9-1-1 call recording shows that within 60 seconds there was enough information to dispatch help to an area indicated by the call screen.

Rodriquez asked the teenager to go outside to find the exact address of the apartment where he was located.  When the teen followed the instructions, the door locked behind him.  "I have to hop the fence because I'm locked out," he clearly says on the call.  After hopping the fence, the caller is asked to perform CPR on the man.

"Can you get close to him?" Rodriquez asked.  "No, I told you I choked him out," the teen responded.

This incident was also detailed in Rodriquez's termination letter from the comm center.  "At no point during the conversation did you actively listen to what the caller had to say or appear to understand that a homicide had ocurred."  It also said he "harangued" the caller with questions and had no appreciation for the caller's environment.

An investigation led by FOX31 Denver found that in the verbal reprimand for this call, Rodriquez's supervisor discussed scene safety, but allowed Rodriquez to return to work without any retraining."

These horror stories are real folks, as sad as it is to say.  It makes one stop and wonder how it happens with all of the training that is available, both for dispatchers and for supervisors.  Is the workload too great, the stress too high, the dedication and basic desire to serve and help people somehow slipping away in our busy world?  Accidents will always happen -- that is the way of the world, but with stories like the ones in this article that are preventable, surely the extra step of caution and attention is worth the effort.