My whole life has been spent solving problems. If I perceive that a problem exists, I feel the need to solve it. It doesn’t always matter what it is – problems just need to go away. I know I’m not the only one out there either. There are lots of you just like me that I’ve met along the way. You are the ones that clean out the coffee pot at work so the coffee doesn’t taste bad. You are the ones that refill the paper in the copy machine when you see the light blinking. You are the ones that stay at work an extra 15 or 20 minutes on a ridiculously busy shift just to make sure you thoroughly briefed your relief.
When I became a dispatcher, I quickly learned that I couldn’t solve all the problems I faced. There were always more calls that needed to be dispatched than I had officers to handle them. Dispatchers all know that the calls holding actually translate to people who need assistance. But even when the call is dispatched, it doesn’t mean the problem was solved. That bothered me for a long time. Dispatching felt like painting a fence in the rain; the paint never actually dries. What was I actually accomplishing?
Then I realized something that changed how I thought about the work I did and shaped the work that I do now. First, I did realize that the problems were not specifically MINE to solve. But I felt that my job was to send someone who COULD solve the problem. Sometimes it actually worked out that way. I will always remember the call I broadcast on the radio “in the blind” (because there were no available officers) of a child not breathing. Luckily an officer on a call not far away, spoke up and said “I’ll take it”. He got to the scene and got the button dislodged from the child’s throat. On the officer’s next radio transmission I could hear the little guy crying in the background. Problem solved with a happy ending.
I hadn’t personally solved that problem, but my actions had made a difference. So when I thought about that call and others, I figured out what my purpose really was – to make a difference. Over the past years (okay, decades), I’ve worked in just about all parts of the 9-1-1 business both on the public and private sides. But one thing has always stayed with me and kept me going at the end of an awful day – the thought that my actions made a difference!
In my life on the commercial side, I was able to be a part of a team which helped a Sheriff to achieve the goal he had set of bringing 9-1-1 service to his community. When the project was complete, the community had gone from 7 digit phone numbers for each individual agency to 9-1-1 for all public safety. An entire team of people had worked diligently for years to make this happen and I was only one small piece of the effort. My one small piece made a difference. I’ll never forget the smile on his face when the first call was answered. I remember thinking to myself, “I have the coolest job in the world”.
So to all of you in this business, regardless whether you are on the public or commercial side of 9-1-1, the next time you have a particularly trying day, please remember: YOU do make a difference!
And if no one has said it to you recently, thank you for making a difference.