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The Emergency Dispatcher

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We all know they are there if we need them. We are taught what number to call if there’s an emergency. But you can never really know what a dispatcher goes through during a typical shift unless you’ve done the job.
It is not a job for the faint of heart. Dealing with the public is never easy. But when you are an emergency dispatcher it is even more challenging. People don’t call you on the best day of their lives. They call asking for help. They may be hysterical and demanding. They do not always know what to do or how to handle the situation they are in the midst of.
Of course the dispatcher is trained to handle whatever call may come across the line. But it still affects them. You cannot take a call from a hysterical mother whose child has stopped breathing and not be affected in some way. Or take a call from someone who has just seen a loved one that has taken their own life and not be changed. Add to that the fact that the majority of the time the dispatcher does not find out the outcome of that call. They answer the call, interview the caller to obtain the necessary information, dispatch the necessary help and disconnect, never knowing the outcome, good or bad.
If you become a dispatcher to gain praise and thanks from the community, then you are doing it for the wrong reason. Most likely you will not hear a thank you or get a pat on the back for a job well done. You will have to rest in the knowledge that you are helping people in their worst moment.
There are days of frustration. There are days when people call and don’t have an emergency. They want you, the dispatcher/the public employee, to do something for them, all because they pay your salary. But you know that there are people out there that are having a real emergency. Their lives are really in danger. And your time and resources are being taken up with other things.
There are all of the calls that dispatchers get referred to as “pocket-dials”. And the nuisance calls, where a child is playing with a phone and inadvertently calls the emergency number. The problem with these calls is that the dispatcher doesn’t know if there is a real emergency and the party on the other end is unable to speak. Maybe they cannot speak because they are hurt or because they are in danger and in fear for their life. All of these calls have to be treated as something serious until proven otherwise.
Anyone who makes it as an Emergency Dispatcher has to be emotionally strong, intelligent and determined. It’s not the same in every county but in Broome County the communications center dispatches for the entire county, all 715 square miles of it. This includes approximately 39 fire departments (3 of them are paid) and 12 ambulance companies (one is for profit). Then there are six police departments and the sheriff department. All of these entities are being dispatched out of the same center.
There is a lot of information to learn. The dispatcher has to be familiar with all of the geography of the county. They have to learn the procedures and protocols of each entity that they dispatch for. There are also the computer and radio systems to learn. There are six computer monitors to watch at all times. The dispatcher has to listen to the caller on the line, the entity on the radio, and the other dispatchers in the room. Each dispatcher has to listen to the call that the person sitting next to them is taking because it may pertain to the call they are taking. For example, when more than one person calls in about the same accident but has different information about it.
The next time you think about the emergency dispatch center, say a prayer for them. It takes a special person to make it through training and withstand the day-to-day demands of the job. They are often underappreciated and overworked. Thank you, from this writer, for all you do.

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