Handling approximately 240 million calls in the Unites States each year, emergency 911 Dispatchers, serve as the bridge between the public and other first responders. These vital 95,000+ Dispatchers are often the initial contact of someone in need of help, thus truly engaging them as literal first responders to many intense emergency situations. Amongst other things, they play an essential role in the process of gathering vital details and communicating information on to police officers, firefighters, and emergency
A vicious cycle is at work in this field of employment. Because many dispatch centers are understaffed, employees are sometimes clocking in 10-12 hour work days, and often working weekends and holidays. Due to the importance of their role, some work overtime on top of these already long hours. In addition to the physical demands of the hours, dispatchers can find themselves facing impact both mentally and emotionally. The stress of handling calls that could mean life or death for citizens, police officers, or fire fighters every day is often damaging to the Dispatcher’s emotional well-being.
It’s typical for a dispatcher to be tethered to their station, not being able to leave their desk for even a few minutes because a call might come in at any time. On a busy day, a dispatcher might take anywhere from 300-500 calls. The incredible emotional and physical demands of their job lead to a high rate of turnover, which in turn creates more demands on the Dispatchers who stay. At times a cycle may ensue of long hours, emotional distress, and trying to calmly provide help to people in the worst moments of their lives, all while striving to maintain their own well being.
Dispatchers often have a hard time letting go of a call when they don’t know what the outcome is. This can produce anxiety and stress due to a lack of receiving closure. Did they live? Are they safe? Many times these questions don’t get answered, while a dispatcher has to be able to move on to the next potentially urgent call. Being able to push down emotions that rise up so they can think clearly and calmly in order to help the next person that may need them requires no small effort. It can prove especially difficult to process these emotions for dispatchers who don’t have anyone to talk to that understands how taxing their job is. Family, friends, and spiritual beliefs help, but most don’t fully understand or address the actual trauma dispatchers experience.
In states like Illinois, bills like SB3127 are being introduced in the senate to include Emergency Medical Dispatchers as first responders. This would give them the same recognition as police, firefighters, and medics. Under this bill they would be able to receive additional mental health benefits, specifically addressing PTSD in a communication center.
During National Public Safety Telecommunicators’ Week, it is important to recognize just how vital the role of a 911 dispatcher is in our communities. The need for them continues to grow, as well as the need to give them the support and, at times, professional help they need to be able to continue doing their job successfully.
Thank you to all the Dispatchers and personnel across the nation for the important service you provide! If you have a chance this week, or any time for that matter, please thank a Dispatcher for the valuable service they provide for our country and communities.
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