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Everyone knows to call 9-1-1 if they have an emergency. What they don’t realize is that the person on the other end of the phone has access to an extensive network that will allow them to handle almost any type of emergency you can imagine. As a communications officer, a dispatcher wears many hats. They handle all types of calls including fire, automobile accidents, home invasions, emergency medical services, and many other types of emergency calls. A 9-1-1 operator is a lifeline between you and the emergency assistance you need.
What Is a “Dispatcher?”
Emergency dispatchers are communications specialists that work long hours, many of them on the phone. They answer a variety of calls, mostly 9-1-1 or emergency requests for some type of assistance. In order for a dispatcher to be effective, they sit in a small area where there is very little background noise. They have access to an extensive network of emergency management systems that connect with an ambulance, fire, and all law enforcement agencies within a specific area. As their name implies, a dispatcher dispatches the appropriate team to handle each type of emergency.
What Does a Dispatcher Do?
Dispatchers answer millions of 9-1-1 calls each year. The National Emergency Number Association estimates the number to be over 240 million each year. Break that down and it’s well over 650,000 calls per day across the country. During a call, a dispatcher will have to:
- Learn the nature of the call
- Gather important personal information
- Keep the caller talking
- Remain calm at all times
- Connect to and dispatch the appropriate emergency services team
It is also essential that they complete any paperwork associated with each call.
What Are the Requirements to Be a Dispatcher?
In order to apply for a dispatcher position, a person must meet the following requirements. They include:
- Read, write, and speak fluent English
- Proficient at solving problems quickly and efficiently
- Working knowledge of legal, laws, regulations, and codes at the city, state, and federal level
- Efficient in both word processing and transcription
- Familiar with all geographic aspects within their designated area
- Active listener and exceptional communication skills
- Excellent note taker
- Ability to think and react quickly
A dispatcher’s ability to think on their feet is what makes a difference. You may only get one chance to save a life. When someone calls 9-1-1, they are in dire need of assistance and they are relying on you to provide it.
Intense Training Requirements
Emergency dispatchers go through intensive training to ensure that they are as effective as possible when taking emergency phone calls or working with public safety telecommunicators. The following list is only a portion of the training you will go through if you are hired as an emergency dispatch officer.
- CAD or software training
- Call taking or response
- Geographic training and familiarization
- First Aid/CPR/AED/Basic Life Support
- Emergency dispatch protocols and best practices
- Continual software training
- Any additional training that is required by your local department
Police dispatchers and ambulance dispatchers must take additional training on a yearly basis to ensure they are up-to-date on all of the important information they must provide to the public. This helps to ensure public safety and allows them to work as efficiently as possible at all times.
Constantly on the Phone and Always Busy
From the time a dispatcher sits at their desk at the communications center, they will begin to answer calls. One of the first things they will need to do is find out the nature of the call and determine its priority. Special software can be used to determine the priority of an emergency situation. In addition to collecting vital information that they will be relaying to emergency responders, the dispatcher will also be providing instructions to the caller and making every possible attempt to help them remain as calm as possible until aid arrives. As long as they are on the phone with the caller, they will continue to collect and document any new information.
Always on Alert
During an emergency call, a dispatcher will be listening to more than just what the caller says. They will also be listening for any noises in the background that will help to determine the location. They will be listening for people taking in the background or sirens that may indicate help is arriving. A dispatcher must be able to remain calm in high-stress situations. It may be up to them to figure out what a caller is trying to say if they are in an unsafe situation and cannot say what is really going on.
Dire and Unpleasant Circumstances
The job of a dispatcher can be difficult. They must listen to people who have been traumatized, sometimes very deeply. They must be able to set aside emotion and diligently pursue the collection of information so it can be relayed to emergency responders, firefighters, and police officers. They must act as an ambulance dispatcher if someone calls to report an injury or medical emergency. They must be able to assess an emergency situation and send the appropriate human resources to sufficiently take care of the problem. They must also remain in constant contact with the local police department and fire department at all times.
It Is Not an Easy Job
Emergency communications specialists and police dispatchers work extremely hard throughout their shifts. There are days when they may not get a break. In a dispatch center, all of the dispatchers work together. If one dispatcher takes a vacation or goes on administrative leave for any reason, the other dispatchers pull together and cover their shift. This is not a job that anyone can do. You can’t bring in someone who has never done the job before. That would be a threat to public safety. A 9-1-1 operator has years of training that cannot be completed in a few hours. A dispatcher is not easy to replace.
Split Second Problem Solvers
Calls can sometimes be frantic and may be considered a matter of life and death. During this type of call, an emergency dispatcher must be quick thinking and be able to respond with split-second accuracy. In some cases, a dispatcher may have to read between the lines and fill in a few blanks if the caller does not have all of the information that may be needed.
Once they have identified the nature of the problem and found a solution, they must then be able to relay information to both the caller to keep them calm and also any responding units, so they arrive at the scene fully prepared to take action.
A dispatcher does not make a lot of money. They do their job because they know they are making a difference. The pay range for dispatchers often starts at around $20.00 per hour. The more experience and training they have, the more money they will make. In some cases, they may be able to make as much as $35 or $40 an hour. The higher wages are often reserved for supervisors or individuals who have agreed to take on more responsibility when it comes to providing much-needed training. Most dispatch centers also provide a very competitive and effective benefits package. Every city is different when it comes to the benefits they offer. It’s important to check them out.
Rewards and Benefits
Dispatchers work very hard at what they do. There are times when they must deal with an emotionally difficult call. They continue to go to work every day and do their job in spite of the emotional and mental stress. Some are eventually diagnosed with PTSD. Others begin to experience anxiety. If the job is so devastating at times, why do they continue to do it?
Many continue to do it because of the times they know they have saved a life. When they can talk a child into opening a locked door so their parents can receive lifesaving treatment or the times when they can help someone involved in a car accident remain calm, those are the times when the rewards outweigh the difficult times.
The benefits a dispatcher receives involves knowing that every day when they leave work, they have made a positive impact on someone’s life. Many people believe that being a dispatcher is an easy job. It is far from easy and they will never get rich, but they will have peace of mind.