Emergency services dispatchers are quite the unique group of individuals. In our career field you can find all sorts of interesting people with amazing stories of how they ended up being a dispatcher and why they stay. You get to interact with all sorts of personality types from the minimally involved to the over-the-edge emotionally involved folks. Quite honestly, I think there could be a market for a day-time soap called “As the Dispatch Center turns …. “.
In just the past couple of weeks, I’ve started thinking about the INTERNAL customer service within the emergency services spectrum that tends to illicit the most powerful emotional responses. You know what I mean … the snarky response from a dispatcher in the room with you … or from a dispatcher from another agency that you’ve called, in the middle of a hot call, who feels the desire to treat you like you are an idiot. Or the officer on the road who tells you for the HUNDREDTH time in that shift to do something that is as second nature as closing your car door before you drive off. Or the fire guy/gal who’s asking you for the update to their call in the middle of your initial dispatch procedure. It is amazing how just one little verbal interaction like that can push the “FIGHT” button and suddenly you find yourself in the heat of battle when you didn’t even see it coming. (There’s rarely a FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE issue here … no sir, it’s straight to FIGHT!)
I’ve actually been thinking about this whole “explosive” issue for several months now and trying to figure out how to just side step these potential land mine situations to reduce work stress and, ultimately, provide the best customer service I can for the people of the community, as well as, the agencies we provide service for. That’s a tough thing to unravel. Our end goal in every situation is to meet the needs of the people we serve while ensuring responder safety to the best of our ability. (Refer back to previous blogs if that sentence makes you immediately think “We can’t help everybody!” You’re right – but we can usually, at least, point them in the right direction.) As I’ve taken these situations apart (after the fact) and looked at how things all reached a boiling point, I’ve noticed a couple of things I believe are the main contenders in the ring. The first one that popped out was the issue of being the “middle man” in situations. (If you work alone in your Center on your shift, this won’t apply!)
Here’s an example: Let’s say I’m the dispatcher on a primary channel (could be police or fire) but was not the call taker for the call they are responding to. Responding units almost ALWAYS have more questions than the dispatcher has answers to. Why? Because they are formulating a plan of how they are going to approach, what equipment they are going to need to take in with them and how many resources they might need. In Dispatch, we’re often in motor skill mode, going through the routine of asking the appropriate questions, based on your department policies, and getting our units dispatched out. Dispatchers are thinking about 20 things all at the same time while processing the call but we don’t process the information the same as the field units. We don’t have the luxury of past experience on scene to draw from, we don’t have more than one person (usually) participating in a conversation while driving to the scene to figure out how to handle the information AND we usually are moving on to the next call. Field units have the ability to process the information, pick it apart and formulate more questions as they are driving to the scene.
When the field units start asking for more information on a call and you’ve already given them everything that is in the call narrative box on your screen, you are faced with three responses: 1) I don’t know, 2) I’ll call the reporting party back, or 3) Let me have you speak with the call taker (then route them to a channel they can talk on). Does #3 surprise you? If so, why? Why do I want to be the person in the middle taking questions from the field unit to have to ask the call taker to have to tell the field unit who will ask for more information from the call taker? It’s a never-ending loop that causes even more confusion because time is wasted in the back and forth question asking where there really doesn’t have to be a middle person – i.e. YOU! And how many times does the call taker already have that piece of information that the field unit is looking for but just didn’t get it in the call???
Another example: You have a field unit requesting an agency assist from another department. In most circumstances, the field unit has usually been on their call for a period of time and has TONS more information than you have. My favorite way to handle these requests is to see if the officer on scene can call the other agency to make the request. That allows the correct information to be passed on to the other agency AND the dispatcher from that agency can
interrogate ask all the pertinent questions that they need according to their policies and procedures. That, again, takes the middle man out of the way and allows the two participants in the actual event to be clear about what the needs and expectations are.
Being the middle man is one of the most frustrating parts of the job but it is actually how the Dispatch Center has to operate. We are the receivers and relayers of information. We’re amazing detectives who can find the most miniscule piece of information that can change the direction of an entire event. We do so many hundreds of tasks per day that we never think about and often we do it without ever being asked or directed. When you find yourself in those times when you are moving into a power struggle over the phone or over the radio with someone who should be on your team, step back, take a breath or two and use the “hold” button if you need to (and can). Remember the end goal is to provide the very best service we can to the people we serve, both internally and externally. YOUR tone of voice matters … YOUR verbiage matters … YOUR attention to detail matters … It’s tough to maintain your cool when in the heat of battle. Instead of giving into the urge to be “right”, find ways to figure out how to not engage the battle. In the end, everyone wins … and YOU will be making a difference, every single shift!
Update on the organizing: I’m pleased to say the organization in our Center is coming together beautifully! I’m confident the new trainees who are coming on soon will be able to find paper for the printer, liners for the trash cans, headsets and office supplies when they need them. In purging and consolidating, I’ve found we have more storage area than I thought we had. Let the de-cluttering continue as I move on to the kitchenette area next week! Woohoo …. 😉