I'm Still Here (With Apologies to Shirley McLaine)
Over the years I've seen many co-workers come and go. I could post a laundry list of reasons, but the big four are work-related injuries, a lack of respect from other public safety personnel, burn-out, and a lack of advancement.
The first reason, work injuries, came about when the new technologies was introduced. Before computers found their way inside the realm of Public Safety, disaptchers had a varied amount of tasks to perform. Calls for service had to be tracked in some form. Depending on the size of the agency involved, the system used may have been date cards, a peg board, or hand written log sheets. Information on the major incidents was collected and typed up on an ongoing basis, to a bulletin for both police and fire usage. Messages were taken and distributed. Phones weer the old fashioned selected a line witha handset, as wherde the radios.
Computers changed this. Take a tour of a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) - otherwise known as a 9-1-1 dispatch center, and chances are every dispatcher will be surrounded by computer monitors. There won't be any phones left,nor any radios. Typing and mousing are to be blamed for repetitive injuries. How many dispatchers retire with 30+ years of service? Not very many compared to firefighters and law enforcement personnel.
The second issue, a lack of respect, is a universal feeling shared by Public Safety Telecommunicators (another name for dispatchers) throughout the land. Often, the public's first and only contact with the emergency system is the 9-1-1 dispatcher. When the caller dials those three digits with what they perceive is an emergency, and in fact is nothing which requires a response. Mr. or Mrs. john Q. Citizen will forever look upon the emergency system according to how they were treated by that dispatcher. If they do have an emergency, the disaptcher is a key person and is responsible for obtaining critical data while the field personnel are responding. After the fact, who gets the credit for being the 'hero' in the incident? More often than not, the cop, firefighter, or paramedic does. Never mind the disaptcher kept the frightened caller calm while the burgler ransacked the house, gave the family CPR instructions, or stayed on the phone and was able to guide the firefighters to the resident trapped in that burning building.
I can't tell you how many times I had an officer see a subject who looked suspecious, or who had a warrnt. The cop would slam his car toa stop, jump out of his car and chase after the guy. Once he caught the bad guy, the fight was on - usually in a back yard somewhere. It was up to me to figure out where the officer was, since he didn't know. The officer takes the subject to jail with accolades fora good job, the dispatcher keeps on doing the job.
Respect? We're still waiting to be considered one of the first responders.
Burnout happens to disaptchers, too. After years of hearing people doing the worst to one another, without hearing the outcome, it gets to you. The difference between burnout of field personnel and dispatchers is a big one. Those handling calls at least get to do something. Medica can start an IV or give a medication, firefighters can rescue a patient or put out a fire, and cops can make an arrest. Disaptchers can only send field personnel to a location. Even when the worst imaginable happens, and one of our people is killed in the line of duty, we can't a;ways step away from the radio & phones. In a small agency, we may be required to keep sending out the cops and answering 911 until another person can arrive to take over.
After so many years of hearing distraught parents scream when they discover little Johnny dead from SIDS, or find a suicidal spouse dead when they come home from work, or hear a lady take her last breath over the phone while she's waiting for the medics to arrive, a part of you starts to die inside.
The nightmares of hearing telephones contantly ring and units calling on a radio while you're standing in the middle of dispatch, frozen tot he floor and there isn't anyone else there.
Yeah, we have out Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) too. A handful of us can push it aside and keep working, but a good portion can't and get out of the profession.
Finally, a lack of advancement. The recruiters don't come around looking for dispatchers, at least they didn't when I entered the profession. What would they have said to entice me to the job? You can be a trainer, maybe an acting supervisor? If you're lucky, you can work for a department that has civilian supervisors. If you go to college and earn a degree, you can maybe find a job as a manager. That's it. Sure, I became a trainer - which was a lot of extra work for 5% bonus when I actively trained. I did become a civilian supervisor (which was four times as much work). I didn't get any extra compensation for being a Tactical Dispatcher - in fact, the motto was 'the best equipment your money could buy' when we asked about supplies and special unforms.
So why am I still in the business after all these years?
I ask myself that question on the bad days. It's certainly NOT the pay (which, thanks to the the Governor, I took a pay cut last year).
I still love what I do. I still enjoy being part of a team that catches a criminal. My heart pumps fast and the adrenalin speeds trhough my veins when I get a pursuit. I love the 'detective' part of my job when find someone who is supposedly not in the grid.
Yes, I'm still here.
Stay safe out there.
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