For the first 18 years of my life, all I knew about 911 dispatchers was that they were the voice that came after the tone, from inside the pager on my dad's hip. The voice telling him where to go and for what. I had no idea after I turned 19 that I would soon become one of those voices. National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week this year is the week of April 14th-20th. I felt it appropriate to write my article this week focused on that, considering it is such a huge part of my life. For the rest of the world, it is just another week. For us, this is the one week out of the whole year that the focus is on the dispatcher, the one week where we don't feel so self-absorbed about saying what we do is nothing short of heroic. Here are some important things to know about the 911 dispatcher in your life.
1. We worry about you constantly
My biggest fear in this job is picking up the phone and hearing my loved one on the other end. No matter what the circumstance. The map zooms to the area of the county where my family and I reside, and my heart always sinks. I get a giant pit in my stomach because the very real reality is it may be someone I know and love. Don't be annoyed when we call you twice in one day or overly remind you to be safe. We are just always worried about our loved ones.
2. Our attention spans can be short
We are trained to get the pertinent information and details all within a matter of seconds. I can't speak for everyone on this, but I struggle a lot with paying attention when someone is talking to me, please forgive me if it feels as though I've stopped listening after a few minutes. I probably have. I've noticed that I listen very intently to the first couple minutes of a conversation and then my mind trails off. Nothing personal, just habit.
3. We have great hearing and multitasking skills
Most of us anyways. We can hear the person on the phone, the officer on one radio channel and the firefighter on the other, all at once. I have found that this skill comes in handy when trying to eavesdrop, also not as handy when you go out to dinner and can hear all five conversations going on around you. I have yet to master shutting that off when I am not at work.
4. We are hilarious
It could be a combination of using humor to deal with bad situations and spending twelve hours at a time in a little room together. But I think it’s that we are just freaking hilarious, nothing else to it. If you go the whole 12 hours without laughing, you're doing something wrong.
5. We have a very complicated love-hate relationship with our jobs
I love what I do, and I truly believe I was meant to put on that headset. Everything happens for a reason and my education plans out of high school didn't work out because I was supposed to be here doing this instead. I love what I do. I hate it sometimes too though. I remember specifically once taking a phone call about an hour before my shift was done. As soon as I got into my vehicle to go home, I bawled my eyes out and swore to myself that I was never stepping back into a comm center again. I hated my job with a burning passion that day. My next scheduled shift, I went back to work because I love it too. See, it doesn't even make sense it's just complicated.
6. We are tired
Believe it or not, this career can be incredibly exhausting. Someone once told me "You just sit at a desk for twelve hours, that can't be that hard." Physically that's right, we just sit there. Mentally and emotionally the first phone call of the shift can drain you and then you still have a little over 11 hours to go. I won't go into details on that but trust us when we say it was a bad call. We are tired. Some of my days off I just sleep all day not because I'm physically exhausted but because my mind needs that much time to recharge.
7. We are crazy
I really have nothing more to say other than no sane person would be a 911 dispatcher. We are all a little 10-96 in the best way possible.
8. We love harder than most
We love strangers we have never met, we love our officers that piss us off daily over the radio (we piss them off too) and we love our co-workers that drive us nuts sometimes. It takes someone incredibly strong to save a life through the phone and someone even stronger to go back after they didn't. With that strength comes a weakness of vulnerability, we know our hearts will break more often than others, and we still continue to put on that headset to help others. The people with the biggest hearts work in a dispatch center. If you are lucky enough to be loved by one don't take them for granted.
The list could go on and on. Dispatchers possess so many skills and qualities that most people will never acquire in their lifetime. People think 911 and picture the police officer, the firefighter, the paramedic often completely forgetting the 911 dispatcher. For us, that's okay because other than this one week out of the year, we don't expect praise or thank you. When it comes down to it, we love what we do and we would do it no matter what.