Language & Accuracy

Heidi DiGennaro

Heidi DiGennaro

Surviving the Headset

Heidi DiGennaro

When I started in emergency dispatch, no one told me I would have to learn a different language. Nor did they tell me that the language would continue to evolve and expand; nor did they tell me until later I would be teaching this language to new people. It’s not a recognized country language or a local dialect—it’s terms and phrases commonly used in the public safety profession.

“Cluster” was one of the first words I learned in its longer, R-rated form. I had no idea what that meant, but now I can identify one when it’s starting. I stopped saying “no” and switched to “negative” because that was the appropriate terminology. When someone asks me if something was “right” (as in the right answer), I say “correct” because “right” is a direction. Answering someone who is about to ask me if I heard something, I answer “direct” instead of “Yeah, I heard that.” Accepting information is “10-4” or “received.” Ping, plot, ALI, ANI, CAD … the list goes on.

The point is we rely on this language and without realizing, our usage may create confusion for others. The protocols have definitions for common terms so everyone is on the same page; do we do the same in our calls for service?

Here’s an example. A new trainee might have trouble with an EMS call that reads, “52yoa M SOB, poss OD on ETOH, AFIB, CHF HX.”

WTH? (I’m not putting the F-Frank there even though you are filling it in yourself). So think before you abbreviate to the point someone else will have difficulty understanding that the patient is a 52 years of age male, who is not the son of a biscuit, but having shortness of breath that possibly overdosed on alcohol and has both atrial fibrillation and a congestive heart failure history.

Let’s be honest; who didn’t pause when they saw SOB for the first few times in a medical call? That pause could throw a trainee off until they learn the language, and if a copy of the call is released, someone may think you’re calling the patient a son of a biscuit. (Remember, it’s a G-rated column. Hi editor!).

A funny moment was when a calltaker typed a suspect was wearing a brown shirt; in her haste, she forgot the “r” in shirt. WTH? The typo required clarifying questions, but it brings up accuracy. Wearing a brown shirt is different than wearing brown … yeah.

Don’t create your own abbreviations—BF has multiple meanings: boyfriend and best friend are two of many. Don’t use non-common terminology or dictionary words like the caller can’t stop lachrymation (the flow of tears); just say the caller can’t stop crying. Your co-workers will thank you by not ridiculing you. If you create a WTH moment, co-workers never forget … and neither will you.

Do be clear, concise, and use plain speech. It makes a difference. A ten-code in one jurisdiction may mean something else in a neighboring jurisdiction. On a status check, we had a lateral officer once give his previous jurisdiction’s code for everything’s OK; in ours, it meant man with gun. Boy was he embarrassed when he realized we sent plenty of backup for him.

Remember, whatever you put into your logs or calls needs to make sense to the person coming behind you, to the person trying to answer questions from a duty officer or chief, or for someone answering a court records request six months later. If the cluster call you took reminds you of a ball of yarn a cat’s shredded, take a few seconds, read what you’ve entered as if you were seeing it for the first time, and ask if it would make sense to you. This can save a lot of time and questions. Use your language wisely and your accuracy freely. That’s the best way to use this new language you’ve learned.