Monday, June 24, 2013

Dispatcher Training Tips: What to do when your trainee handles an incident incorrectly

No one wants to screw up. No one steps through that door to the Communications Center with the single intention of messing up royally.

It just doesn't happen.

Who wants to go home and listen to the repeated playbacks of their voice on the local (and national news) telling some irrational caller that the problem he or she is screaming about is not an emergency? Even worse, missing that cop or firefighter's request for help?

What do you, as a trainer do when your trainee makes a mistake? Is it a minor error or a bad one? Did someone get hurt or die? Did you step in and take over or did you coach your recruit through the event? What step to rectify any future occurances did you take? How did you document the occurance? What can you do to help your trainee recover from a bad event? Should one terrible call signal the possible termination of a trainee's career?

Let's start with the inevitable: all persons in training, no matter what the job, wil make a mistake or two at some point. The goal of the trainer is to limit the amount and scope of the errors. Obviously in our line of work, any mistake carries a potential for the loss of life and/or serious injuries to both civilian and agency personnel. In addition, damages to property can be costly. Even when we (Public Safety Telecommunicators) follow every standard operating procedure (SOP) and faithfully keep to every policy & procedure (P&P), the very nature of human beings still cause incidents to go wrong. Remember that cantankerous fellow Murphy? He loves to throw wrenches at life (I think that's where the dodgeball coach got that idea from).

There are a couple of unwritten rules commonly known to those of us who've ever worked in the field:
1) People die.
2) You can't change rule #2.
3) Don't become a victim (see rule #1).

To help your trainee, you need to prepare them for the role as a Telecomunicator as best as you can. Know your job. Keep current on the profession by joining the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the Associated Public Communications Officials, Inc (APCO). Read your agency's P&Ps and SOP's. How can you answer questions if you don't know the current information?

Understand your department's Daily Observation Report (DOR) form. Know what the criteria for each section is and how to rate according for the scale used. Ask your supervisor in advance what problems are automatic terminable offenses (officer or public safety violations?) and what manner of documentation is expected for said incident?

Think about when you were in the hot seat, with a trainer watching over your shoulder. How did you feel? It is intimidating to perform in a glass house but that is the nature of our profession. What could you do help make it a little less un-nerving for your new person?

In advance, sit down and be forthright with your trainee. I found it difficult to 'sit on my hands' and let trainees muddle through telephone calls or radio traffic, but I had to give them that opportunity. I only took over when the student started floundering badly or I heard a safety concern that had to be addressed immediately. Once the call was done, we'd get relieved and get off the floor where we would discuss what happened. Copies of the event, with radio/phone tapes, would be attached to that shift's DOR (an extensive explanation of the event and what was done to correct the behavior was included).

In the case of a major incident, I'd immediately take over. Once the craziness settled down, we try to get off the floor and discuss what went wrong.  We'd talk about how I fixed the problem. I'd also go over what might happen, if there was a chance of any discipline. The incident would be throughly documented, along with copies of the call & radio/phone tapes. I would most likely not put the trainee back on the floor for the remainder of the shift, instead I'd have them study quietly until it time to go home. I'd send a separate report to the training coordinator and/or shift supervisor.

Did I mention I'd start this off the floor meeting with a box of tissues?

When writing DORs, be factual and keep emotions out. There is always a slight chance that the DORs could be supoened at a later date, so keep that in mind when writing your evaluations. Use correct sentences and avoid abbreviations if at all possible (if you use them, the first time spell them out and put abbreviation in parenthesis). Print your statements, instead of handwriting, and use black or blue ink. Remember, DORs are legal documents.

Suport your trainee to the best of your ability. This is a future co-worker. Embrace them and be happy he or she is there. One more trainer person means a little less work for you and the possiblity of getting that extra day off next month. It means the partner sitting next to you will be able to help you by making call-outs when that general alarm fire comes in or makes the calls for mutual aid during the pursuit without being asked.

Isn't that what it's all about?

By the way, my recruit just cleared her training. We are now officially FULLY STAFFED.

Wow, how often do you hear that?

stay safe out there!

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