A national proclaimed recognition week (second week in April) was established in 1991 honor the 9-1-1 Public Safety Telecommunicators. This year, April 14 - 20 is dedicated to the men & women who serve as public safety call takers & dispatchers in our 9-1-1 centers. We at the NFPA thank all who stay on the line and help us in our times of greatest needs. Many don’t realize the challenges our 911 telecommunicators face every day. They are the first to know when something has happened and attempt to remotely make calm out of chaos, gather critical information; including information to help protect the safety of first responders, and then provide lifesaving instructions over the phone that could potentially save someone’s life.
In 2009, I had major back surgery that would limit my ability to work on an ambulance for a significant amount of time. For the better part of the next two years, I worked as a dispatcher, 911 call taker, and C-Med radio operator (coordinating regional ambulance to hospital communications). In the center where I worked, we averaged processing approximately 140,000 calls for service a year. I can honestly say, the time I spent in dispatch made a huge difference in my life and career. It opened my eyes to other divisions of my department and other things I could do to serve my community. It afforded me the opportunity to learn different operational and managerial roles that would benefit me later on. But most importantly it taught me to use other senses and critical communication and thinking skills to process information and emergency scenes without being able to see or touch the patients. In the long run this improved my leadership, communication, and organizational skills.
While in dispatch I managed many major multiple casualty incidents from the dispatcher chair. I also took calls from women in active labor and coached them through what to do until help arrived, I talked members of the public through Hands-only CPR, and even talked with many people who were contemplating suicide and tried to keep their attention and focus on staying with me until help arrived. I always thought being an EMT and going through the emotions of the challenges we face every day was hard. I didn’t know how good we had it until I went into dispatch! It’s all the same challenges and feelings, but you can’t see or feel them for yourself. You have to hope that people are following your instructions and learning the results of your efforts is extremely rare. This puts an incredible mental strain on you because while most don’t realize it, our dispatch professionals are there with all other first responders on the very same front lines trying to help other in need. Their ability to quickly multi-task, get resources moving, and provide guidance in a fog of confusion, is a most admirable and critical skill for the safety of the public.
One of the things I’m most proud of in our work at the NFPA, is that long before I ever came along, the NFPA has been working with the dispatch community to incorporate them into the codes and standards we develop. This is indicative of the critical nature of the work of our dispatchers and the absolute fact that they too are first responders.
Through NFPA 1221; Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems we set the minimum standard to which our dispatch centers and Public Answering Points are designed and used. Through NFPA 1061; Standard for Public Safety Telecommunications Personnel Professional Qualifications we set the training and educational minimums that telecommunicators must demonstrate in order to perform their jobs. More recently, we have looked at the expanded role of our dispatch centers and personnel play in active shooter and hostile event incidents them having their own chapter in NFPA 3000; Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program and their expanded medical screening role in order to reduce the burden of non-emergent medical calls in our 911 EMS systems in NFPA 451; Guide for Community Healthcare Programs. Today and every day, we at the NFPA thank and appreciate those professionals on the other side of the line from all of us who stand ready to help complete strangers in their times of need. Happy Public Safety Telecommunicators Week!!!!