By Lonna Cain
All across the country, everyday heroes – Public Safety Telecommunicators – help save lives.
They live it – they breathe it – they feel it. They are dedicated, tenacious and strong. They exhaust their hearts answering the needs of desperate 9-1-1 callers. They make sacrifices only they understand for the benefit of those they will never know. They are the voice of reason for those trapped in the chaos of the moment.
Currently, there are 7,050 primary and secondary Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) across the U.S. 1, each staffed by talented, dedicated personnel who are willing to work long hours under the headset and behind a row of monitors to safely deliver help to those in need. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently cites the number of Police, Fire and Ambulance dispatchers at 102,000 2. The BLS offers this description of the public safety telecommunicators’ work environment:
“Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers work in emergency communication centers called public safety answering points (PSAPs). Dispatchers must be available around the clock, so they often have to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. Overtime and long shifts—sometimes 12 hours—are common. The pressure to respond quickly and calmly in alarming situations can be stressful.”3
Further, the BLS compares their job duties as similar to Air Traffic Controllers, EMTs and Paramedics.4
WHO ANSWERS WHEN YOU DIAL 9-1-1?
Expectations of the call-taker are high. Some say that just a sliver – only 2% – of the population is suited for this type of work. Consider the traits you expect at the end of the line.
You may not realize that you want a multi-tasker – a REAL multi-tasker. As they are calmly listening to you and gathering relevant information to get you the help you need – they are simultaneously coordinating responders and using mapping software and other advanced technologies to find you!
You want a good communicator – someone who can be calm in the midst of your crisis and firm enough to provide the instructions or direction you need to survive. They must be able to deliver succinct, yet highly accurate information to the first responders.
Empathy, mental agility and tolerance are required. They are the epitome of dichotomy! They are both leaders and followers. They must be patiently and humbly deliberate in their decision-making. They must keep their feelings in check throughout highly charged emotional situations. They remain focused on their cause no matter what kind of turmoil revolves around them.
They’re great coworkers – they are resilient and stable and possess a finely-tuned sense of humor. They must work as individuals but they operate as a team.
In the Spirit of 9-1-1, we celebrate National Public Safety Telecommunicators Appreciation Week. We know what you do – thank you for looking out for us.
Lonna Cain is Director of Emergency Services & Support at West’s Safety Services. She has served as a Communications Director at the Boulder Police Department and Operations Supervisor at Adams County Communications Center, both in Colorado.
1Federal Communications Commission, “911 Master PSAP Registry” (2017), available at https://www.fcc.gov/general/9-1-1-master-psap-registry/2,3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/police-fire-and-ambulance-dispatchers.htm (visited March 20, 2017).
4Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/police-fire-and-ambulance-dispatchers.htm (visited March 20, 2017).