Structure In Dispatch

Heidi DiGennaro

Heidi DiGennaro

Surviving the Headset

How many of you work in a center where the policies were/are emails, a memorandum from 10 years ago, someone’s fifth generation copy of handwritten notes, or are shared by word of mouth? Are they open to interpretation based on who reads it that particular Tuesday?

I worked in a center like that; that environment is confusing for a new employee. Heck, it’s confusing for the people who work there, and they’re the trainers. 

Structure helps. I’m not saying that everything must be locked down tight; the nature of our work prevents that. I’m suggesting finding a way to create some structure when there isn’t any. Or find a couple like-minded people willing to help establish structure by working with supervisors, employees, and management to put together a standard policy manual. 

Start with your protocols. Every caller should receive the same level of service with protocol usage. Whether your agency uses one or all three, protocols create expectations of call processing. Proper use of protocol minimizes the risk to you and your personal belongings (house) if your agency is sued. Protocols provide a pathway and allow you to anticipate most situations. If there isn’t a pathway, suggestions for protocol change can build that pathway. Add in quality assurance for feedback and training checklist goals to cover must-have training points.

Using protocols requires policies governing the use of the protocols. “Use this or else” does not generate clear expectations or consequences. Or else what? I can think of a couple people who would push the limits to find out what “or else” means. Are you one of them? If you only use one protocol discipline, do you have in-house cardsets for call types not handled by the protocol you use? 

When I was new, it was hard to know what to do. I started on the 21st and became a solo calltaker by the 24th. No cardsets, no protocols, just word-of-mouth training—here’s what you get in this situation. Someone called out questions for me to ask or answer in between their radio transmissions and me trying not to sound like a fool. Now serving a hot mess. 

Clear policies help you. You know what to expect, where to look when you have a question, and you know potential outcomes of not following them. The protocols provide Rules and Axioms to help you; shouldn’t you have the same for other aspects of your job?

Writing policies can be easier than you think. Break it down like the protocols—chief complaint. What is the policy’s primary function? Once you establish a clear idea of the primary function, don’t go deep into the weeds with what ifs on the secondary offshoots of the primary. Stick with the primary function of what you are doing and why.  What are the steps or process you want/need to follow? What are the subsets/possibilities/potential offshoots you need to outline?   Definitions—what words/acronyms do you need spelled out? I’ve set up an example below.

Policy Title/Subject (Chief Complaint): Protocol Usage

Purpose: To establish a standard for the use of protocols.

General Procedure: Personnel trained and certified in protocols are required to use the protocols on applicable calls for service.    

Applicable allows for interpretation—do you use protocols when an allied agency calls you on a ringdown or radio requesting an ambulance? No, which is why you add applicable.

Are required—no loophole to get out of it. Words like shall, will, must, and required are definitive must-do’s. Wiggle room words: suggested, should, may, time permitting. 

Subset example: 

When faced with multiple-discipline calls, the telecommunicator must choose the discipline that will have primary response obligations to stabilize the scene. (Say more if needed)

Define your acronyms (EMD).

Have the policy signed off by your administration/supervision and post in a central spot, electronic or otherwise.

So that’s a simple procedure template. Doesn’t look too hard, does it? Take a chance on creating structure in your center. You’ll be better off for it.