Monday, September 3, 2012

Hey Rookie: Hot Call Coming up the Belt

Alright Rookie, so you want some advice?

Old dispatchers never die, they just get manhandled in to taking Lead or Supervisor positions. There will always be the few veterans who refuse to move up the chain, stubbornly holding on to their seniority, and favorite console, with a tenacity that would impress Ruth Ginsburg.

Stay away from those dispatchers, unless you want your feelings hurt. Yeah, I meant me, too.

Occasionally,we'll take a 'rookie' under our wing and pass on a tidbit of advice. More often, you'll be summoned because you missed some piece of information and we'll want it fixed, yesterday. Hey, who knows how many years we have left on this earth. We can't wait around forever...hop to it! You screwed up the call, so you get to fix it. If it's an in-progress 911, we've been known to pick up and take over the call to get what we need.

Sorry, officer safety comes first. We'll apologize later.

Just think about the wonderful, good 'ol days you whipper snappers missed out on. BC - that's before cad - we had to, take a breath now, WRITE all of the call information on logs or data cards. Can you just imagine, hand writing, not even using a typewriter? The shock of it all. No, sorry, we didn't even have a an encyclopedia.

Along with the cards, we had to know how to use a map. We memorized our department's jurisdictional boundaries, roads, hundred blocks, betas, census tracts, landmarks, highways, schools, etc. Whew, it was a major part of our training, in addition to all of the regular codes (back then we were strict on codes). And we had a long, I mean reeaaallly long belt that went from one end of the communications center call-taking area to the radio consoles. The belt at Berkeley had three tracts, the inside went backwards, and the two outside went forward (to radio).

On slow nights, a card would occasionally get set on fire and make it's way towards the radio desks (police & fire). Yeah, it was stupid, and we laughed our asses off and always put out the fire before anything bad happened. Yeah, the fire extinguisher was outside in the hallway, close enough for the firemen to grab on the way inside.

Our little 'hot calls' were a way of letting off steam...(drums, please).

It's tough to do that with a CAD system.

We knew our guys by voice and they used their badge numbers - none of that beat id stuff. Field units always tested the new rookie on the radio. If you passed the test (okay, hazing), they'd be cool from then on, but if you were a screw-up, forget it.

Worked with a couple over the years where I broadcast 'change of control' - something we used to do as part of a radio control change anyway, but I said it with a little more force after relieving certain folks. There were a couple I ended up doing a complete role call status check. Never failed, over half were doing something OVER than what the board (or CAD) had them on.

The newer folks don't hang around as long. I don't know, maybe the job's not as exciting or they don't see the profession as a long term position. I guess many of them use dispatching as a spring board to field work or management. It's a shame. We are the original first responders, and don't you ever forget that. The times are different. The GenXrs and 20somethings grew up with technologies that many of us veterans never did.

There are days when I look out the windows and see people walk by to visit, and feel like a goldfish in a bowl. There was a time when communications centers were restricted access, out of the way to most foot traffic. Just having windows was a big deal, being on a ground floor with the public being able to walk past and look in still makes me nervous. Is this really a secure room? Take out dispatch and you cripple a department. Hasn't Admin thought of that scenario?

Remember rookie, life over property and radio before phones. Take lot's of notes because I don't like repeating myself a dozen times a shift, and yes, this will be on the test, once I figure out if we have any made up yet.

So, rookie, are you finishing up school or waiting for an officer or firefighter opening?

You went to school with the intention of becoming a dispatcher, and some day managing a comm center?

<long pause>

It's about time! Get out your notes and let's start reviewing.

Stay safe out there.

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