OUT OF THE ROOM
May 10, 2016
By Audrey Fraizer
Two dispatchers are sitting in the break room. One asks the other: “So, why do you think we need incident dispatch?”
The other dispatcher, who happens to be Portland Regional Communications Center (Portland, Maine) Supervisor Anthony Favreau, answers: “Because it gets the incident out of the room.”
That, in a sentence, is a major reason Favreau favors taking dispatchers trained in incident dispatch out of the communication center and on the road to manage resources on scene from a command post during a major incident.
“Phones don’t stop ringing inside the center because you have a building fire or mass shooting,” Favreau said. “No, the phones keep ringing and everything else your center usually handles doesn’t go away.”
Favreau has been in dispatch for his entire career, and he is specially trained to provide crucial incident dispatch during a large-scale emergency. As part of an incident dispatch team (IDT), he assumes tasks that had previously been assigned to line staff that, in turn, is now able to resume tactical operating. The IDT may also provide status support, resource tracking and accountability, and just plain “know how” in finding information from dispatch experience.
Take for instance a three-alarm apartment fire in Portland on Nov. 1, 2014, that killed six adults in their 20s. The number of apartments and the difficulty of knowing the names of people visiting (non-residents) when the fire occurred complicated identifying the dead on scene.
That’s where Favreau’s experience shined.
“I assisted with other support from the center to help identify four of the deceased persons from resources available,” Favreau said.
He also emphasized the help provided by people at the communication center.
Favreau spent nearly 16 hours at the scene, which, he said, stands out as a qualifier for selecting an incident dispatch team from available staff. It’s not a good fit for a “40-hour” person who packs up at the end of a shift, nor for someone who likes the day-to-day routine of claiming a favorite chair for sitting out the shift at a CAD. A less-than-professional demeanor is also unfavorable.
“We have people [in high places] coming into the command center,” Favreau said. “You want to make sure the people well represent your agency. You want the best and the brightest.”
And you want to keep the best and brightest working for your agency, said Dave Larton, First Contact 911 instructor and 35-year emergency response veteran.
“You have to give them opportunity,” said Larton, whose credentials include certified incident communication center manager and founder of the National Incident Dispatchers Association. “These are people who want to give the extra. They like being part of a team, and anything you can do that adds to the job keeps the best people around for a longer time.”
While motivation is essential, it also helps to have the appropriate equipment available. For example, Portland’s $500,000 mobile command unit doubles as a conference and communications center and as backup for the dispatch center. Portland and South Portland police and fire have access to the unit.
If a mobile unit is not within budget, there’s always the option of working from a laptop from the back of a police chief’s vehicle or—for the really dedicated and adventurous dispatcher—signing up for TERT (Telecommunicator Emergency Response Task force). Dispatchers qualifying for TERT respond to large scale, multi- jurisdictional emergencies, such as Hurricane Katrina.
“When you think you’re really good at your job, TERT lets you take it to the next level,” Larton said. “Sometimes it scares me half to death going where the radio frequencies, CADs, and voices are different from I’m used to, but if it sounds like a great challenge to you, sign up. We’d love to have you.”