We have probably all asked that question at one point in our careers when frustrated about an incident. So what's the deal? What are our expectations? The quote, “before judging someone walk a mile in their shoes” is appropriate.
Let's think about this for a moment.
What is the environment? In a single person dispatch center, the dispatcher may be responsible for taking 911 calls, answering the window at the station, dispatching police, fire and EMS, watching prisoners, etc. If the dispatcher has to go the bathroom or gets sick during their shift, the implications are obvious. A single-person center may afford more hometown familiarity however this may detract from emergency functionality.
In a regional communications center, they have additional diverse requirements typically associated implanting regional plans, statewide mutual aid and much more.
The present day environment has changed immensely. Dispatch communications have been transformed; technology, expectations, increasing levels of required training and professionalism, has driven the profession to all new levels of service. The changes in state regulations requiring documented training and emergency medical dispatching have been transformational in pushing agencies reluctant to invest in their people.
What are our expectations? We expect that a dispatcher will extract accurate information from a caller who on average will only dial 911 once or twice in their lifetime. The caller will routinely provide inaccurate or misinformation due to the stress of their situation.
Technology? When the state initiated enhanced 911 the callers addresses were displayed enabling a rapid response with almost 100 percent accuracy. With phones of today, cell and smart phones, public safety has struggled to remain current with accuracy. The next generation 911 looming around the corner should give us greater accuracy identifying emergency locations.
I applaud agencies that embrace a dispatcher's ride along, and include them in fire and EMS training evolutions, plan development, and walk through of identified critical infrastructure locations. Additionally, agencies that send their fire officers and firefighters to spend a shift or portion thereof at the dispatch center to expand their knowledge of dispatch communications.
Together we can all achieve more.
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Charles Garrity joined the Lanesborough Fire Department as a junior member in 1974, spent 4 years in the US Navy on a Rescue/Salvage ship and has been EMT since 1984. He has worked at the Massachusetts State Police Communications center in Shelburne Falls since 1994 as a supervisor and has served as the Berkshire County Fire Coordinator since 1994. Charles an associate’s degree in fire science from BCC, a BA in Public Administration from UMASS and graduated from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He serves as the Fire Science Adjunct Professor at Berkshire Community College since 2006, has been a member of the Berkshire County and North West Massachusetts Incident Management Teams since its inception and is also a member of the Department of Fire Services Special Response Team.
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