The annual Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is almost here: April 13-19. It’s time to let your dispatchers know how much you appreciate them.
Spend a full day (or evening) shadowing a Public Safety Telecommunicator (also known as a dispatcher) and see what their job is really like. But before I get in to the in’s and out’s of a dispatcher’s job, how did the National Week come to pass?
Dispatcher Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department came up with the idea back in 1981. She rallied co-workers and fellow dispatchers from other local agencies. Back then, Patricia called the celebration National Dispatcher Week. The idea gathered ground and other agencies joined the bandwagon. Soon, the Associated Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), an organization dedication to advancing the cause of all aspects of Public Safety communications added their lobbying power.
Virginia and North Carolina APCO chapters pushed to get the idea formalized as a National resolution in Congress. Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey (D) agreed that the National Dispatcher Week was a good idea. He introduced H.J. Resolution 284, supporting what was renamed National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week to Congress.
Alas, all good things take time. Took took a few years to get the document through the red tape process. This delay didn’t stop agencies from having their own celebrations, regardless of a formal declaration. In Alameda County (CA) departments rotated the location of the annual dispatcher banquet, gave door prizes, and handed out awards from each agency for meritorious service to the Public Safety Telecommunicators. In some departments, field personnel manned the
communications center in order to allow every dispatcher to attend annual awards dinner. in other parts of the country, agencies gave acknowledged dispatch personnel with special challenge coins, meals, certificates, or awards. Congress finally passed the Resolution and it was signed b President Bush in 1992. President Clinton re-signed the proclamation again in 1994 and 1996.
The National Public Safety Dispatchers Week honors the men and women of the law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services every year. Dispatchers answer emergency and non-emergency phone lines gathering information while reacting appropriately according to the type of incident; handle radios; track field personnel; dispatch calls for service; coordinate emergency response; keep callers calm while providing guidance; in some agencies provide emergency medical instructions until fire or emergency medical services arrive; coordinate flights; are part of field emergency communications response teams for SWAT and fire departments; are part of disaster relief for Telecommunication Emergency Response Teams (TERT); train new dispatchers; supervise dispatchers; are members of local, state, and national organizations & committees; and, they do ALL of this on a moment’s notice keeping calm while chaos reigns around them.
A dispatcher is not supposed to get upset on the phone while a caller is screaming obscenities at them. A dispatcher is expected to stay calm while officers are yelling in their radios while they are chasing a suspect and the adrenalin is running high. A dispatcher must remain cool and collected when the mayday is called by a firefighter trapped in that burning building. A dispatcher can’t fall apart on the radio when the paramedic radios in that he’s being shot at and needs help now. A dispatcher has to be sympathetic, empathetic, and professional when that suicidal caller threatens to pull the trigger RIGHT NOW while on the phone.
Often, there’s not even time to take a break between the bad calls. You just muddle on and swallow the angst. Tears can come later, after your shift – or not.
Why would anyone want to be a Public Safety Telecommunicator?
There are the great days. Saving a life with CPR over the phone or getting the description which helps to catch the burglar. Being a part of a tactical unit which resolves a hostage situation without anyone getting hurt or dying. Working a large wildland fire and knowing your expertise helped make the Incident Commander’s job easier. Responding to a major disaster for a TERT call-out so some local dispatchers can take care of their own family with a clear conscience knowing you are taking care of the Public Safety ones for them.
You may never need to all 9-1-1, but if you do, remember the men and women of dispatch are truly there to help you.
Stay safe out there!