In most cases, it is due to lack of jobs, even though that will not be the answer they give during the interview process.
Most answers that are given are along the lines of, “I want to help the people,” or “this seems like an avenue to help people,” or “I want to be involved and this helps all the responders.”
Then once in dispatch, there is a roller-coaster effect of “why am I here?”
Let’s use the name of Tracy to go through a few thoughts and experiences a new dispatcher may encounter. Tracy has gone through the interview process and passed the background and drug testing. He is a viable candidate who is hired on as a dispatcher.
Tracy gets introduced to the Dispatch Center “Command Central.” That whole “what have I gotten myself into?” settles in. During training, he is shown all the equipment, multiple computers and monitors. Many hours are spent on policies and procedures and why certain things are allowed and not allowed to be done. Tracy is now more comfortable in the environment and starts to talk more with coworkers and as it is often his real reason for getting into dispatch is that he needed work and 911 was hiring. There still is a hint of wanting to help people but basically, he needed a job.
Tracy sits in dispatch watching the action and how smooth the seasoned dispatchers are taking care of call after call. He hears both sides, the caller and the dispatcher, while sitting in amazement that all this really does happen in our small patch of the world. After a couple weeks he sits and thinks, “I can probably do this,” anticipating the day he takes his first call. He has watched, listened and gone over policies and procedures until his eyes hurt. Tracy’s trainer has gone over scenario after scenario with him. During the training, he thinks to himself, “just let me do it; I know I can, just let me answer the phone or the radio.”
After all the hard work and training it comes time to take that first call. A dispatcher never knows what call they will receive until they answer the phone and say “911, where is your emergency?” The trainee is always supervised and has a trainer by their side at the ready to take over if needed.
Tracy: “911, where is your emergency?”
Caller: “I just passed Dogs Bluff and I hit a deer.”
Tracy just had that realization of that first call! He was ready and prepared through training he had talked about this very type of call many times, but why was he drawing a blank. As soon as Tracy said “OK,” he looked at the trainer. The trainer was able to see the “what in the world do I do?” look in his eyes and quickly stepped in and advised him how to proceed.
This may seem like a simple call to handle, and in the scheme of things it is. Dispatchers must worry about many things in split seconds and get that caller the correct help. With this call the location, name and phone number was verified. Dispatch made sure everyone was ok and did not need medical attention, not including the deer. The caller was then transferred to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
After the call was transferred and all information put into the system, Tracy had talked with the trainer expressing he did not know what happened and they had walked through that scenario many times during training. This happens to almost all new dispatchers; this is part of learning and controlling responses to incoming calls. With each new call that rang in, Tracy becomes calmer and can go through the procedures as he was trained.
As Tracy progresses, those great calls where the caller needed help, received the help or even saved just as shown on television, happened more and more. What Tracy didn’t realize is that it was nothing like on television. While watching it on television, one does not experience all those feelings. The feeling of the save. That feeling when a mom says her child is not breathing. That feeling when the choking person yells out. The feelings of “I need to do something more to help with CPR.” The feelings of what-if, when the EMS crew does not answer the status check? The feelings when the firefighter will not answer the radio after being on scene awhile, with a fully engulfed structure. That feeling when the officer radios back in an excited unusual voice and dispatch hears pursuit. That feeling when a child is lost but found safe while on the phone.
A dispatcher can go through as many emotional situations in one shift that another person may only experience in a whole year or more.
What the callers and general public do not realize is that dispatch is busy most of the time with multiple calls. Not only are they answering calls regarding hitting a deer, there may be a medical, fire or traffic stop all at the same time. Not only does dispatch worry about the caller on the line, they are also trying to keep watch on all responders out in the field. There could be many agencies with multiple personnel on different scenes at the same time.
Not only does the dispatcher have to worry about helping callers and making sure all responders are safe and taken care of. They are under constant scrutiny about how they perform. All dispatchers are subject to a quality assurance by supervisors. There are also 14 agencies that are dispatched by 911, with many other agencies and countless people in scanner land who are always aware if a mistake is made.
Now that the new dispatcher has been dispatching for about a year, when you ask again why they got into dispatch. The answer usually goes from I needed a job, to I needed a job and I get to help more people in one shift than most do in a lifetime. They may have given the normal response in their interview of wanting to help people, without realizing it that is exactly what they wanted and enjoy.
All dispatchers see the job as more than a job. They stay in the profession to help people. They stay, dealing with all the criticizing from all angles and keep helping people.
They are always there to be that voice in the dark. They are the unseen heroes.