As I sit here at work, behind the radio with an unusual amount of moody/attitude filled units working, I am inspired to write something on the unseen people of Emergency Services. The calm voices in the night have many different names. Radio Operator, Dispatcher, Public Safety Telecommunicator, Call Taker, or whatever your local agencies uses. In reality, they are people doing a job that is definitely not for everyone. They are the first, First Responders who are always heard but most of the time never seen.
For starters, let me tell you about myself. My name is Sean, I have been in EMS for about 9 years working as an EMT, and rising to the rank of Lieutenant and eventually Captain. I have worked both as a Paid EMT as well as a Volunteer EMT. I have also worked Security for a major Theme park in New Jersey where I began my dispatching Career. I have been dispatching for a total of 8 years, 4 years with my current County based Center in New Jersey. In my current position, I am tasked with my primary job of answering calls for service, and dispatching units to those calls as well as many other tasks such as training new employees, assisting with updating training tools, and running the shift operations when necessary. I am a dispatcher, a leader, a trainer, a friend, and a resource.
How many of you have ever thought about the voice on the other end of your radio or pager? You all know the voices, you all hear them, but how many of you have actually taken the time to get to know the person behind the voice? As someone who works behind the radio, I can tell you that getting to know the people you are talking to makes a huge difference. Even more so than knowing your dispatchers, has anyone taken the time to get to know the job? Most people think all we do is answer a phone and push a few buttons. I am here to say that couldn't be further from the truth.
Imagine sitting by yourself looking at a multitude of computer screens (anywhere from 2 to 4 to 6 to my 8) having to answer anywhere from 1 to 10 radio channels, 5 administrative phone calls, 1 to 2 emergency 9-1-1 calls, simultaneously gathering information, entering it into the computer, dispatching police, fire, EMS and making notification to Medics. Now, imagine doing this for 8, 10, 12 or 16 hours a day. Sometimes with no break, eating at your desk taking bites between radio traffic or phone calls. Clearly this job is not easy, and not for all.
Try being on the phone with a frantic mother who lost their child at a park, or talking to a child who can’t wake up their father who just fell on the ground. Imagine trying to give CPR instructions over the phone to a hysterical caller who is trying to save their loved ones life. Try feeling completely helpless as you are miles away from the person in distress and they are turning to you for help. This is just a few of the things that dispatchers have to deal with every day, every shift, every time they answer the phone.
Now imagine you out on the road dealing with your call. We know what you are doing, we understand that you are working and need whatever resources you are requesting. We hear you, we are working diligently to fulfill your request. You may very well not be the only radio channel we are working with, we may be on 3 or 4 different phone calls, so please give us a break. Give us a chance to answer you, give us more than 30 seconds before you start getting frustrated with us and start with the calling every 10 seconds and the attitude in the voice. Depending on the center, there may only be 1 person responsible for doing everything and during a major incident they are getting bombarded with information, requests and trying to make the notifications required. Please give them time to do their job. Remember they are working toward the same goal that you are, helping the public that need it.
In short, before you start bad mouthing, trash talking, or giving attitude to your dispatchers please take a minute to think about what they might be dealing with, who else they might be talking to, how many phones are ringing in the background. They might be dealing with 10 other situations on top of yours.
It is not always possible for us to get out the door to see you all, however I can almost guarantee you that it would be really nice if you all took the time to get to know us. Come see us, call up after a big call and see how we are doing, for those able, stop in and say hi, coffee and food are always a way to our hearts. We have to remember, no matter what is going on we are all part of the same team and are all working toward the same goal.
About the Author
SEAN WALSH is an EMT with North Stelton Fire Company EMS Division in Piscataway NJ for the last 9 years. He is also a Public Safety Telecommunicator with a county based agency in NJ for the last 4 years. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at Thomas Edison State College (NJ) in 2013.