A Closer Look: In honor and appreciation of emergency dispatchers
By Paula M. Felipe
When someone dials 9-1-1, it can be a matter of life and death. And, some callers can get very emotional and want to tell the dispatchers the whole history that led to the crisis. So, the dispatchers are trained to take charge of the call and know what information the officers and firefighters need in responding to an emergency. The dispatchers have to ask specific questions to obtain critical information, such as the exact address or location of an incident and if anyone needs medical help. The dispatchers working at law enforcement agencies routes medical calls and reports of any fires to the appropriate fire rescue agencies, who dispatch the ambulance and fire engines.
Law enforcement officers are always the first on scene for any kind of criminal violence, including reports of suicide. So, these officers are "first responders" who also are trained in emergency medical procedures and CPR. When responding to a criminal violence call or suicide, the fire rescue and medics stage in an area nearby until the police officers get control of the incident, secure the scene, and advise fire rescue and medics when it is "all clear" to go in and treat the injured. So, it's very important for dispatchers to remain calm, confident, and poised while dealing with callers who may be frightened or feeling panic in emergency situations. Dispatchers also provide a soothing, supportive voice on the other end of the radio for the deputy who is "in the field" serving the public and facing all manner of situations and problems.
Let's consider a single traffic stop: The deputy or police officer calls in the stop to the dispatcher, who creates a computer call and runs the license plate to ensure the vehicle is not stolen or wanted for anything. The officer then radios the names of all the people involved in the stop to the dispatcher, who then runs the names through the department warrant system and the nationwide warrant system. They then call any related departments to have them check their individual department(s) warrant system. If there are four persons in the vehicle then this process is done four times. This is all being done while the dispatcher is still answering the phones and handling other radio traffic. People's lives are on the line and dispatchers need to respond immediately and think on their feet. Dispatchers need to prioritize events, and deal with the most urgent calls first, and they need to be able to communicate in a most effective manner.
Not only does every call bring a unique situation, but one call's event can change quickly and dramatically, going from a "Code 4" (no lights or sirens) to a "Code 3" (lights and sirens flashing).
Public safety dispatchers require extensive training. They also have to pass a state-mandated test in addition to passing interview and oral board exams; a background investigation; psychological tests; and a three-hour written exam. Record-keeping is also part of a dispatcher's work, including report and arrival times, locations, date of in custody, and name of people involved. Also, public safety dispatchers have on-going training and keep up-to-date on new laws and procedures.
Public safety dispatchers operating in Butte County are working in the Butte County Sheriff's Office, Oroville Police Department, Chico Police, Chico State University Police, California Highway Patrol, Paradise Police, Gridley Police, and CAL Fire/Butte County Fire.
Dispatchers have been honored every year in April ever since the U.S. Congress passed legislation declaring "National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week." A congresswomen from Maryland, Mrs. Morella, announced in Oct. 1991: "Mr. Speaker, as the Republican sponsor of House Joint Resolution 284, and as a member of the Congressional Fire Services caucus, it is my pleasure to rise in support of this legislation to designate the second week of April, 1992, as 'National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week' . . . We depend upon public safety Telecommunicators to notify emergency personnel promptly, clearly, and calmly. We depend upon them to keep our husbands, our wives, and our children calm and assured in an emergency. We depend upon them for guidance and support in our most frantic and panicked moments. . .Mr. Speaker, some of us have been lucky enough not to have had to dial 911 in the middle of a fire, a robbery, or a medical emergency. But for the millions of Americans who have faced such an emergency, public safety telecommunicators have been there ready and willing to help. It is, indeed, fitting that we take time to recognize their invaluable contribution to our daily lives, and I am very pleased to support the designation of the second week of April, 1992, as 'National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.'"
To all public safety dispatchers: You did an amazing job during the storm. It was an extremely busy and stressful time, and you were continuously bombarded with so many 9-1-1 calls and urgent incidents with powerlines coming down all over the place. And, you remained sharp, steadfast, strong, confident, calm, cool, and collected. Thank you!
Paula M. Felipe is the public safety reporter for the Oroville Mercury-Register.
Copyright 2008 Oroville Mercury-Register
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