Sherri Stigler

Sherri Stigler

Guest Writer

By Sherri Stigler

I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of budding public safety professionals who were in pursuit of their degrees in law enforcement and firefighting at our local technical college. It was my goal to educate them about our profession, reiterating several times how the position has evolved over the years into a specialized support function that is certainly more involved than most people realize.

Near the end of the presentation, one young man raised his hand and asked if it would be a positive step to apply for dispatch positions in order to “prepare” for his “real” career in law enforcement. Instantly, I felt it getting warmer in the room. Nope, it wasn’t a hot flash. It was, however, the irritating burn that is felt every time I hear people minimize the job of the 9-1-1 dispatcher. So, I did what every self-respecting comm. center manager would do: I let him have it in a stern but “kind” way, of course.

“No,” I told him. “It is NOT a good thing to apply for dispatch so you can leave to become an officer or firefighter. Why? For the same reason I would not expect you to leave the police or fire service to become a dispatcher! I need people who have a desire to make this a profession, not someone who uses it as a stepping stone.”

I couldn’t stop there.

“Why would I spend nearly a year of considerable time, money, and effort to train someone properly as a dispatcher just to have them leave for a ‘real’ job? Dispatching IS a real job. And it’s a really tough job, too. In fact, very few people have the skills to be successful at dispatch. The sooner everyone understands that, the better off we’ll be, my friend!”

He was quiet for the rest of the tour. It made him think.

The fear about the way others perceive dispatch, however, pales in comparison to the fear I have that many dispatchers actually believe in those myths. Many dispatchers do NOT understand the depth of their value, and many underestimate their worth to the efforts of the public safety system. I refer to this particular affliction as the “Eeyore” syndrome.

“Oh bother … I’m JUST a dispatcher.”

“They (officers/firefighters) don’t care what I think … I’m JUST a dispatcher.”

“Thanks for noticin’ me … but I’m nothin’ special … I’m JUST a dispatcher.”

“I’ll transfer you to an officer … I can’t help you … sorry, but I’m JUST a dispatcher.”

People … DO NOT let these donkeys onto your operations floor. There is no place for them. If you do have Eeyores, you’ll need to do some quick donkey-ectomies. Now is the perfect time to turn from Eeyore “victim-think” to develop into the more confident, energized, “can-do” “Tigger” mentality! Here’s how:

Train and educate: Nothing says professionalism and pride like investing in the professional development of staff. No money? No problem. Have you seen all of the low-cost/free training opportunities available for the taking? The investment in training will always be worth it.

Standardization: There is a big push to standardize training and certify telecommunications professionals. Important work continues to be done in nearly every state in order to make this a reality. Get involved and participate in those discussions and work efforts.

Make ‘em believe: Consider affirmation oaths for staff and include them in the development of mission, vision, and values statements. Be consistent in your expectations, especially when it comes to protocol compliance and customer service deliverables.

Value and trust: Dispatchers know what they need, and they have a unique and uncanny ability to anticipate the needs of the officers/firefighters on the street. Making decisions about communication processes with police/fire/EMS agencies should include the dispatchers. Trust them and respect them—they are truly the experts!