Saturday, December 24, 2016

The #IAM911 movement

You may have heard of it on on the the social media sites - or not. "In the Trenches" on Facebook, '#IAM911" on Twitter, or The Jabberlog web blog was started by a former dispatcher in support of 911 dispatchers. Why? This year the Federal OMB Division was contacted to change the job description of Public Safety Telecommunicators (911 Dispatchers) from office personnel to emergency. Currently, we are lumped in with tow and taxi dispatchers. APCO and NENA (the National Emergency Number Association) joined to petition the feds to get our classification changed to the same as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.

 We should be changed. We are the first "First Responders". We take the calls the start the emergency process, whether it is via 911 or through a direct phone number. Many 911 personnel are emergency medical dispatchers and provide pre-arrival medical instructions. These men and women tell callers how to do CPR, stop bleeding, aid in child-birth, and many other first aid situations.

Fire dispatchers obtain valuable information from citizens. Knowing what questions to ask is crucial to responding fire personnel. In addition, many agencies now train and staff Incident Management Teams that include field-trained dispatchers. These IMT-dispatchers staff command posts at major incidents.

Law enforcement dispatchers handle the majority of the initial incoming phone calls, then transfer to other centers (fire/ems). Calls can vary from shift to shift. In my career, I've handled riots, disasters, major wildland fires, pursuits, officer-involved shootings, and co-worker injuries. Dispatchers have to be ready for every contingency including loosing the radios and computers (it happened to my center twice), fire in the building (every but dispatch was evacuated), and major incidents.

What happens when dispatchers are hurt or sick? If you work in an office you can leave but 911 personnel don't always have that luxury. When you're the only one there, you stay until someone can come in to relieve you. One coworker had a major medical episode at work. I spent half a shift dealing with a major migraine (running back & forth from bathroom to throw up between calls & radio traffic), and another night I was in tears after learning about a death of a close family member.

One time I did fail to do my job: just before shift I had went to my taekwondo class and sparred with a higher ranked partner. I was kicked in the head and unbeknown to myself, earned a concussion. By the time I reached work, I had a terrible headache. I plugged in and told my coworkers I didn't feel good. I set my head down on the console 'for a moment'. An hour later, one of them shook me and told me to take a break in the break room. I'd passed out. Next thing I know I was being told to wake up as it was time to go home. They had let me 'sleep' all night! They felt sorry for me and said it wasn't busy. I went to the Er but by then the doctor said the worst of the concussion was over with. Wow.

We are dedicated and care for our field personnel. We also care for the public. How many of us have been asked to 'make a call to have someone step out' only to have that turn into a can of worms? One such call I made became a barricaded subject. The suicidal male had a gun to his head. Almost an hour later I handed the call over to a hostage negotiator. The caller put the gun down 5 minutes later. I did get credit for that call.

We work under terrible circumstances, many times short-staffed or in substandard centers. I've written about working where we had official dispatch cats to catch rodents or did mice disposal after hearing the trap 'snap' noise. One of the busiest shifts was one in which my co-workers were all semi-trained and none qualified to work the police channel. Of course, that was the night when two major incidents occurred at the same time: a barricaded subject and a hostage incident. I knuckled down and did my best to deal with the heavy radio traffic.

Post your stories here or on Ricardo's site.

Stay safe out there!

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