Sunday, April 8, 2012

Can I get a medic on standby? The geriatric dispatcher club

I always thought I'd be able to retire someday. I pictured myself enjoying my golden years with my husband, my leisure time alternating between gardening, painting, writing, reading, and travelling. My dream house out in a rural area where I could have a few chickens, goats, and a couple of horses. Yep, I'm a country gal at heart.

This weekend, one of my partners and I were discussing the sad plight of working until forever. We'd like to be able to say good bye to work some day. Is that going to happen? If I was a betting gal, Id say not very likely (and since I live in a gambling state I could probably find a casino who'd be willing to take my money on such a bet).

Veteran dispatchers are a wonderful source of knowledge about the old style of telecommunicating. Think about it. Many of us started the profession when every task was done by hand. We had to learn our jurisdictions the old fashioned way: by memorizing maps and driving around in our cars (or via ride-alongs). For you modern folks, that means learning the hundred blocks, major streets & highways, landmarks, beats, census tracks, compass points (north/south/east/west), and jurisdictional boundaries of our agency. We had to memorize radio, vehicle, and criminal codes; we had to know policies & procedures, too. There was no email, messages were hand written and delivered in person or via telephone.

Briefings and logs were either written or typed. Calls for service were hand-written, usually on small cards and sent to the radio via a two-way belt system that ran the length of the room. On occasion, a real 'hot' call would show up the the fire radio dispatcher 'on fire' as a joke. Teletypes were initially typed out on a large machine, then that changed to a long format. Data cards fit into slots and lights were flipped on: green when units were available and red when a card was placed in the slot. Real simple. A clear glass covered map became a huge erasable board to write descriptions and mark off block covers.

Ah, the good 'ol days...

Pre-formatted screens? Please, we wished for pre-formatted fields. String commands typed on dos screens made for careful typing. One wrong character and you had to start ALL over again. Sure, we cursed the computer geeks who invented CAD and laughed when we were told "CAD never goes down. You can throw away your note pads and maps."

Sure, and I have a Monet hanging on my wall that I bought at a garage sale. It is right next to the Rembrandt.

How many times did we watch that system crash and burn over the years? Now we're watching our co-workers burn out instead.

But we refuse to go away. We shall overcome.

So, as I mentioned we were talking about the unlikelihood of making the retirement age. With staying in the job forever, we agreed that the department would need to make a few accommodations for the mature dispatchers...

What do we need? First, every communications center with old time dispatchers needs a medic on standby, in the center, maybe at his (or her) console. Seriously, with old timers like us, we could have a heart attack, a stroke, arrhythmia's, or get dehydrated. Plus, we'll probably have IVs on board for our maintenance meds, so the medic will keep busy administering medications & changing out IV bags. A decent medic, who, if I had my choice, would be in his 20's, nice looking...(there's nothing wrong with appreciating the finer things in life).
Better chairs, with wheels - NOT wheelchairs- just easy chairs with cup holders would be a definite plus. A bigger TV that we can see without wearing our glasses would be nice. Clocks should have the big numbers, the better to see when the shift is over. A nutritionist to plan our meals and a chef to cook them because our digest system is more delicate, and dammit, we deserve it for sticking around so long and putting up with the occasional fickle field crews and abusive callers. The last two can be students from a cooking school needing to practice their trade for school credit (see, we're willing to help students at the same time).

Finally, for those busy shifts, a harpist to play soothing music. Surely no one can object to harp instrumentals? We can take a vote if one of our co-workers prefer another type of instruments. Keep in mind the space limitations. Again, if your department has a music school in the area, take advantage of internships. The students work off their time while your  employees de-stress. It's a win-win for everyone!

Now that we've identified way to help keep those long-term mature employees happy and productive, how does one identify them in the first place?

Geriatric dispatchers come in two forms: those with mobile assisted devices and those on two feet. The mobile, or wheeled, kind are usually faster than the two-footed kind although wave free tickets to a 70's rock band in the air and you might be surprised at how fast the two-footed dispatchers move. Both species work fine once they take a position at their work station. Unlike their younger counterparts, their flesh can be dull, sometimes covered with brown spots, scars, and curiously stretched and/or weird tattoos. Instead of energy drinks, they may sip on Ensures or orange juice.
Some of us have a few physical problems, nothing that affects are ability to get the job done. You might see some of these signs in your co-workers today: gnarled hands that still have a permanently attached pen (black or blue ink), squinty eyes (from trying to see that computer screen), an indentation in their skull from years of wearing a headset, an off & on again tic under the right eye (from too many cups of caffeine & full-strength Coca-Cola), and has the ability to make the toughest street cop find a private place and cry because he (or she) has been taken down a peg or two (and isn't even sure what for).

Expect frequent bathroom breaks, smoking breaks (yes, many of them do smoke), and unusual foods as meal (bacon for lunch?). Texting? Forget it. You're lucky if your veterans have a cell phone. Social networking? No way, those with computers are still trying to figure out why their Internet goes away when the phone rings (dial-up really bites).

There is a language barrier to overcome with geriatric dispatchers. Don't talk tech talk us: veterans have come a long way. Treat us gently when it comes to technology. We've had to learn how to use answering machines, pagers, personal computers, cell phones, and compact disc players. Don't ask me about switching from DVD to blue ray unless you want a lecture on VHS verses beta in return.

Don't get me wrong, geriatric dispatchers can be the nicest people in dispatch. When the crap starts flying, they are the ones the field personnel want on the radio. We remember old stuff from the stone age of radios. We watch out for our field personnel. We may not always get along, but we will stand together when the need is there. We may not do much training, and when we do, our little rookies are run through the ringer, but it's worth it.

The final question is, who qualifies to be a Geriatric Dispatcher? After all, we can't just let anyone in can we? My partner & I bantered back and forth and came up with a couple of easy answers to requirements. You have to meet one or more of the following:

1) Been in the Dispatching profession a cumulative amount of 20 years (active or retired).

2) Be a dispatcher who is at least 50 years old. This number was picked because this is when you start getting the AARP letters.

Alright - I can hear the tongues wagging and the keyboards clicking. who is going to be brave enough to comment? If this catches on, we coudl take it state or nationwide. T-shirts, mugs, pens, who knows what else? Gray pride!!! Maybe get some sponsers...

If not, well it's all in good fun...

Stay safe out there!

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