This week is National Public Safety Telecommunications/911 Dispatchers Week. This week is a time that we thank the men and women who are the “first” responder’s in Emergency Services. They are the backbone of Law Enforcement. Officer go to work every day knowing they might be on duty by themselves with backup nearly twenty minutes away, but they know the 911 Dispatchers are always there ready to do anything they can to assist Officers. Linked to the emergency only by a phone line, it’s up to the 9-1-1 dispatcher to determine what’s going on, what needs to happen to respond to the emergency, and what personnel and equipment needs to be dispatched.
A screaming mother holding the limp body of her baby, a distraught elderly person trying to wake up their spouse, a child hiding in a closet while it’s parents fight in the next room, or a confused person who was just in an automobile accident and doesn’t know where they are – these are just a few of the types of calls that come into 9-1-1 centers around the United States every moment. It’s up to the 9-1-1 telecommunicator to calm the caller, enter precise information into a computer, and if in a “one horse center”, do the actual dispatching of equipment and people.
Most of the time, the Telecommunicator doesn’t see the end result of the call. They’ve moved on to the next 9-1-1 call, and then the next. It’s rare that they get to know the final outcome of the emergency, but the satisfaction of doing an important job to help the public is what drives them.
Many times, it can seem like the 9-1-1 telecommunicator is a forgotten link in the world of emergency services. Often located in a cramped room that used to serve some other purpose, and usually tucked away in basements of 50′s and 60′s era “fallout shelters”, ”dispatch”, or “radio”, can be a daunting place to work. Recognition often does not come easy, even when much of the prep work that allows field units to quickly resolve emergencies in the field is handled by Telecommunicators before “first responders” arrive on scene.
The hours are terrible, the pay mediocre, and the stress can be intense. The satisfaction of helping in times of need is a prime motivator of 9-1-1 Telecommunicators. Often, the next day they’re back at their dispatch console, taking calls and dispatching units to deal with today’s emergencies. They’ll be back again tomorrow, to start all over again.