Dear 911 Dispatchers,
I went ahead and wrote another book about you. Like the first one, I didn’t ask if I could do that. I just went ahead with my bad self and wrote another book about the job that more or less consumed me for the twelve years that I worked it.
But here’s the thing. I think 911 dispatchers needed another book. Because ten years after my first effort, people still fail to acknowledge dispatchers as first responders, and because ten years later, people still forget to thank the dispatcher when they’re busy thanking police officers and firefighters every time they cross the street. Because the only time anyone gives a crap about 911 is when something goes wrong and the newsies get a good sound bite. Because people still think that if a dispatcher gets caught sleeping near the end of a 12-hour night shift, he or she should be publicly flogged with a 1970s desk phone.
People still don’t get you. I have to say you now, instead of we because I left 911 dispatching two years ago. But when I was a dispatcher, I felt a lot of the same things you feel, and heard a lot of the same things you heard. I took a shit-ton of abuse and I lost a lot of sleep and I did way too much stress-eating and swallowed way too many Benedryl. I bonded with my coworkers while simultaneously plotting their deaths so I could have some damn seniority. I swore a lot.
I hated it. Yet I had a pretty good time.
I hope you like this little book. Maybe you’ll relate to some of it. Maybe you’ll think some of it is bullshit. The thing about being a 911 dispatcher is that every single call is different from the last call, and so every dispatcher experience is different from every other dispatcher experience. I can’t speak for you.
Yet, because of the book, lots of people think that I can speak for you. So I do my best. I try really hard (and almost always fail) not to talk about the strange things people try to put in their rectums, and I try not to swear too much. And, just rest assured that when I do speak for you, these are the things I’m speaking up for:
- Better training for 911 dispatchers (hell, ANY training in some cases). In twelve years, I personally saw training go from three months of solid one-on-one plus six months of supervision to three months of one-on-one plus nothing (aka sink or swim) to two months plus good luck and P.S. Don’t Fuck It Up, Newbie. Experiences vary, but this strikes me as a bad trend.
There’s so much great de-escalation training out there. There’s active shooter training, cultural awareness, critical incidents training … there’s so much good stuff out there. Dispatchers need more tools with which to manage this tough job. Why should the cops have all the fun (and free bagels)?
- Better after-incident stress relief (not five days after the incident, but right freaking afterward). This is a big one. Yes, you have your stork pins and your lifesaver pins. There’s no such thing as a martyr pin. There’s no generous cash award for burning yourself out. You have to step away after a critical incident. Stop leaving all of those pounds of flesh in the dispatch center. It’s unsanitary! But seriously. We need to take better care of our first first responders.
- Better staffing (because holy shit they’re still understaffing, like, everywhere). Dear cities and counties: Stop trying to skim on 911 staffing as if you’re hiring for seasonal window washers. Hint: If you’re doubling your squads for some big city-wide to-do, you should be doing the same for your dispatchers. Because … duh. Math.
- Better tech (because everybody thinks you have the fancy fucking CSI-inspired GPS cell phone shit, despite the fact that you DON’T). You know how the 16-year-old at the Taco Bell drive-thru has a better headset than any given dispatcher? Well now the Poly-Sci major who just brought your pizza has better GPS.
I recently visited a dispatch center that doesn’t even have CAD (computer aided dispatching) yet. The dispatcher recorded all pertinent information, including time-stamping in a … wait for it … are you even ready for this? … a notebook. If I didn’t think it might take too long for help to be dispatched, I would have fainted right there in the PD lobby. A notebook. And a nice ballpoint pen, of course. (More on that visit in a later blog.)
- Better cable TV packages in the dispatch center! (Okay maybe we fight that battle after all the other shit is squared away.)
That’s my “If I was King of 911” list. You might ask, “Why give a shit if you’re not even dispatching anymore?” Because of course I still might have to call 911 some day. And when I do, I super duper hope that the gal or guy I’m talking to hasn’t been awake for 20 hours and/or burned out for 20 years. I care because I know what it’s like, and I think things could be a lot better.
So, please let me know if I’m missing something. I mean, maybe you really want new chairs at every console. I can totally blog about that. Or maybe you really want Full House Superstar John Stamos to visit your dispatch center. I’ll see what I can do. I don’t understand it, but I’m not one to judge, and anyway I think he’s probably got the free time.
So, keep the faith, dispatchers! The fact that another book got published about 911 dispatch means that people do care, and not just because they want you to tell them about your “wackiest” call ever. Okay, they totally still want that. They can’t help themselves. But also, you matter.
So, keep calm; dispatch on. And don’t worry: That last bagel was the kind with no calories.