Friday, April 10, 2020

Celebrating dispatchers, the forgotten first responders

Sadly, it too often takes a crisis – be it 9/11 or a local catastrophe – to cause Americans to really celebrate the value that first responders bring to society.


We’ve seen that admiration in spades of late as impromptu parades, homemade yard signs, and press briefing commentaries by county, state, and federal executives have shined the spotlight on police, firefighters and ambulance crews for dealing with what the coronavirus crisis has thrown at them and our communities.


Even so, almost every one of us is guilty of, at one point – and, for some folks, always -- overlooking one subset of first responders who also deserve accolades, those who are actually the first of the responders – the dispatchers. Dispatchers are special public servants who are, in a way, the first on the scene. They may not be responding to the scene itself but they are responding directly to the people involved – those who need saving and those doing the saving.


The amount of stress placed upon dispatchers is considerable as are the skills and abilities they need to navigate their duties. Just ponder the following possible chain of events that happen once a call comes in to the 911 center.


The communicator has to calm the harried caller, be it a victim of domestic violence, a witness to an accident, or someone tending to a loved one who has taken ill.


Then, the dispatch team has to figure out the appropriate response – who, what, why, where and how. This gets tricky sometimes if the team has to use multiple forms of cellular and satellite technology to triangulate calls and ascertain location and the unique obstacles it may pose.


That team then calls out the appropriate police force and fire/EMS personnel, all while giving them the proper details and setting the table for them so they know exactly what they are heading into so they can be mentally and physically prepared and, above all, safe.


The dispatcher on the phone must often educate and help a stressed caller handle the event they are in, whether it’s leaving a danger zone, hiding from an attacker or doing critical first aid like administering CPR or the Heimlich maneuver or stopping a deadly bleed.


The individual at radio control must help coordinate and monitor all communications of the various agencies and departments on scene and determine if more help is needed and call for that accordingly.      


That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there’s so much more that needs doing. There’s a lot going on with just one call to 911.


Obviously, our multitasking dispatchers have to wear many hats – communicator, coordinator, and counselor. All of those tasks have to be handled with immediacy – every second matters with emergency calls – and with preternatural calm so the callers aren’t put into further distress and the other first responders can be directed and can direct with confidence.


It really takes a special person to be a dispatcher.


As someone who religiously listens to Niagara County dispatch I can attest to their professionalism, expertise and genuine humanity. We’re blessed to have them serving the citizens and their brothers and sisters in the public safety world.


This week, by regular practice and not because of the Covid-19 crisis, is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week during which the workers of dispatcher centers are recognized for doing what they do. Most often, a Sheriff’s Office or a Police Commissioner’s office will hold a small ceremony or post something on their social media extolling the virtues of their dispatchers.


The dispatchers deserve a tip of the hat from us, too.


If they’ve ever been there for you maybe you could drop a kindly letter in the mail explaining how they helped you through an emergency. Or, maybe the next time you find yourself calling 911, you could end the call with a simple “thank you”.


Those are two words they don’t hear enough.  


From the 13 April 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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