When you think of first responders, what do you think of? Police officers? Firefighters?
What you might not think about is those who answer the phone. 9–1–1 dispatchers’ are the first ones to gain information about the scene. They are the first people to hear what is happening and listen to a victim or bystander at the accident.
For Dispatchers at the Folsom Police Department in Folsom, California, Dispatching was not an easy career to get started in. There is a lengthy process of getting hired, and it can take six to 8 months just to get the job. They have to go through multiple tests physically and mentally to be hired
Dispatcher Jessica Price told me there are multiple steps when it comes to getting hired. First, they talk to people you know, ranging from landlords to ex-boyfriends. You have to take a polygraph test to see how honest you are and what you will disclose. To be hired, you even have to go through a psychiatric interview and a medical exam.
“I have heard that only 4% of the population can dispatch. That’s it.” Price said.
Once they get their foot through the door dispatchers, spend months of training just to sit down in the chair by themselves. They must complete 120 hours of training that has to be completed within a year of being hired.
Dispatchers don’t tend to feel comfortable doing their job for many months after taking their first call. Price said that it took her years in order to be confident in her ability to answer the phone.
In order to help cope with difficult calls, different departments have their own way of giving support to their dispatchers. The Folsom Police Department has a relaxation room where a dispatcher can regroup before taking more calls. Price also told me about how they also have incorporated peer support in their department.
“It’s peer support. One-on-one counseling, nobody is a licensed therapist. If I take a really bad call, like a child dies and it is really eating at me. Someone can reach out to me through peer support and go, “Hey, how are you doing?” Price said.
There is a lot that happens when you call 9–1–1. The dispatcher asks multiple questions, but they always start with getting the location of the accident and what has happened. This is to get an officer on the scene within a few minutes.
As the dispatchers are getting information, they type everything down in their system. It is kept with the file and sent to the officer who is going to the scene. Before the officer arrives, their goal is to send over as much information about the house or area’s history while also staying on the phone with the caller.
“We will research the address and research anyone that has lived there. We try to build as much history and information so that the officer is not walking into a more dangerous situation. We are basically trying to prevent anything else from happening before they get there.”
If the caller is filing a complaint, or the incident has to do with a different department, the dispatcher transfers the call as quickly as possible. They have connections all over the city and other close by towns. They transfer calls to the fire department, Environmental and Water Services, and animal control, to name a few.
Even though it is a high-stress job that involves a lot of knowledge, dedication, and emotional stress, dispatchers enjoy the reward of helping people every day, knowing that they make a difference. Price stated that it is a feeling unlike any other, and it is a very satisfying job.
“Every once in a while, you get a call, and it’s like a kid or a girl that something happened to her, and you get to help them, and it’s a really satisfying feeling.” Price said.