Becoming a 911 Operator...Pros/Cons? I'm thinking about it...

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Posted 5/7/2009 by MizIndependent in NSBR Board
 

MizIndependent
Is there another word for synonym?

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Posted: 5/7/2009 1:19:10 PM
There's an opening here in my city for one...I've always been interested. Does anyone have any experience with being one? Looking for some pros and cons.


2girlsluvme
Ancient Ancestor of Pea

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Posted: 5/7/2009 1:24:59 PM
My older sister has been a 911 operator and supervisor for over 20 years.

The pros: The camaraderie of the department, good pay and benefits (pension etc), opportunity for advancement, a lot of overtime opportunities.

The cons: Flex schedule - she'll go from graves to days to swings. This may be particular to her department, but they shift three times a year and it's hard on her. Stress - it's one of the most stressful, adrenaline inducing jobs there is.

If you're a great multi-tasker, can handle the stress and shift changes, it can be a very rewarding career.

Good luck with your decision.

midwesternmuse
Just spastic enough to be charming

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Posted: 5/7/2009 1:39:10 PM
I was a 911 dispatch operator for a few months before going to a hospital as an emergency dispatch operator.

Pros: It's decent pay (depending on your area), great benefits, it can be a very rewarding job, there is usually lots of OT and you'll always pretty much have job security. Most centers now are pretty good about taking care of the employees - my friend back in Chicago works at a department that has a "relaxation room" with aromatherapy and massaging chairs.

Cons: It can be very, very, very stressful, you'll always to have to work some holidays/weekends, getting time off can sometimes be hard if they are understaffed, your shift can change a lot - going from nights to days and back again and it's not a job that's good for someone that doesn't really want to work. I used to work with a girl that just wanted to play on the Internet and read magazines all day vs. take EVERY call seriously. She would just assume someone was playing around when they weren't. There will be times where it is life or death and some people just can't handle that pressure.

I'd love to do it again in a smaller town or area but honestly, I don't think I could do it in a high crime area or a big city - I would get too depressed if I had to constantly deal with it.

walkerdill
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Posted: 5/7/2009 1:47:15 PM
I was a dispatcher for the sheriff's office for 5 years. I didnt really know how stressful it was until after I left. I had constant migraines and they went away after I left the job.

The good parts are the pay is usually good & you get regular raises along with a yearly cost of living raise. You get benefits. If I got pulled over I usually knew the officers so I would get out of a ticket. Our area advancement was very hard since most people working there had been there for 10-15 years.

The bad was Mandatory overtime. We worked 12 hour shifts (2 1/2 days on and 2 1/2 days off) so overtime made for a really long shift. If there is ever a crisis you MUST come to work! Hurricanes, tornado's, terrorist attatck, etc...you must report to work!

One year during hurricane season we worked and the power went out. We had to sit in a halway with flashlights trying to write down what people were saying. The 911 lines would hang up mid sentence. It was horrible!

The other thing is you take seriously terrible calls sometimes and its very hard to get over them. I still think about calls I took to this day because they freaked me out. I have taken calls where the caller was killed while talking to me. I have taken calls where a missing child was found murdered in a ditch. They stick with you forever.

WorkingClassDog
Rick Springfield Junkie

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Posted: 5/7/2009 1:47:35 PM
I always thought about it, but the hours is what kills it for me. I used to work all the holidays, graveyards, weekends while young and single. Now with a family, I just couldn't do it (unless it was totally necessary to save our house or something).

agirlnamedSweetPete
MIA

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Posted: 5/7/2009 2:05:34 PM
Everyone has pointed out everything I would have said. But I wanted to add one thing, SO is a cop. And I always said, 'what if I wanted to become an operator'. And her response was what everyone else is saying to you here except she added one key thing that was a deal braker. Cops, fire & ambulance people...all the people you send out to the scene; they get closure on the event-you don't. That is stress. You as the operator were there from the beginning of the call, you kept the people on the line, you got the emergency help there and then silence. You don't really get a chance to find out what happened, if everything is ok etc. It can drive a person crazy!! So it's not only a stressful job in the sense of emergency but it also can really stress out your psychi. KWIM? I for one like to read to the end of a book, not set it down to never learn if everyone was alright in the end.

Good luck with your choice!

Kelpea
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Posted: 5/7/2009 2:07:35 PM

Stress - it's one of the most stressful, adrenaline inducing jobs there is.



Those of you who can do this have my highest regards and thanks. I don't think I could take the pressure, however.

sweetpea4Utoo
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Posted: 5/7/2009 2:24:50 PM
I was a 911 operator for a few years at the Sheriff's Office. I was scared to go to work. We had to sign a paper that basically said if I made a mistake and sent rescue or the fire dept. to the wrong address and someone sued, they were suing me not the Sheriff's Office. I answered 911 calls for the whole county. 11 towns. Never more than 2 people working at the same time and if they stepped out for lunch, only one person working the phones. And it wasn't just 911 calls we had to answer...it was the business lines for people needing the sheriff or the newspaper wanting the Captain for information on a fatal accident, as well as the deputies doing traffic stops and dispatching them to non-emergency calls.

You should definately have some law enforcement background or have an uncluttered, pink brain to be able to absorb all that it entails. I did a good job but don't miss the 10-12 hour days, the stress and the attitudes from deputies, not to mention the screaming 911 calls.

My last 911 call was from a 33 year old mother of 2 who had just had a baby in the toilet and didn't even know she was pregnant....

Oh, and you'll probably have to look at the suicide and unnatended death photos too.....

It's also a thankless job. No one that calls 911 really knows/cares where the operator is. Just get the police here kinda thing. You're just a voice most of the time.

I am still in law enforcement, as an administrative assistant, and I basically still do the same job but minus the 911 calls. Those are answered by another agency and those dispatchers dispatch my officers. I just dispatch the non-emergency calls.


journey fan
"Don't Stop Believin'"

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Posted: 5/7/2009 2:26:07 PM
I was a police/fire dispatcher for 9 years. I loved loved loved the job but made a change because the shift work finally got to me. We wanted to start a family and needed something more stable. Anyway, this made me tear up:


Cops, fire & ambulance people...all the people you send out to the scene; they get closure on the event-you don't. That is stress. You as the operator were there from the beginning of the call, you kept the people on the line, you got the emergency help there and then silence. You don't really get a chance to find out what happened, if everything is ok etc. It can drive a person crazy!! So it's not only a stressful job in the sense of emergency but it also can really stress out your psychi.


So true! That is the most stressful part of the job, not the craziness that goes on in the dispatch center. It's never knowing how calls turn out....did the baby start breathing? Did the lost child come home? Did the abused mom who was stabbed live? You can somewhat followup via the news media yourself but in general you never know and it's heart wrenching. And, yes, the stress of dealing with calls is immense: Being on the phone when a college girl's apartment is being broken into and you don't have any officers to send. Trying to calm a mom who just dropped her infant, head first, onto a tile floor. And get ready to be screamed at, cursed at, and hated on. There are some VERY mean people in this world and they will take out their stress and aggravation on you. Also, mentally ill people like to call...police are a big focus for them. You are paid to remain calm and be helpful, despite being called every C* and F* and B* word out there, LOL!

In other words, just be sure your mentally ready for what will happen. I think there are a lot of people who want to and become dispatchers but only a very few have the personality and skill to actually do it well and survive it. The venting and bitc*ing in the comm center was the best thing I found to help. And hang out with the cops/firefighters when you can...they get it like no one else does.

Have you done any sit-alongs? I would go into the department you're considering and sit along for a few Friday and Saturday nights. That will be a real education and you can see if it's what you want to do. Best of luck in your decision!

MizIndependent
Is there another word for synonym?

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Posted: 5/7/2009 3:50:50 PM
O_O

Wow. This is all very eye-opening. I mean, I kinda got that it is a stressful job...but just...guess I didn't know to think that far into it. You all have my utmost respect...YIKES! I will have to think about this very carefully. Perhaps pursue it when the kids are grown and gone...

jennid
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Posted: 5/8/2009 2:18:19 PM
I have been a Fire/EMS dispatcher for 10 almost 11 years. It can be very rewarding but also very stressful.

Pros - Pay is pretty darn good, can get overtime if you want it at most agencies. I work with the same shift on the days I do work. The schedule is good yet bad. I work about 14-15 days a month. 12 hour shifts, 6a-6p with every other Sat/Sun/Mon off - those 3 day weekends are great!

Cons - Stressful when busy, having to work holidays, nights, evenings, being away from family, etc. I get to work most of the major holidays for the next couple of years due to our new schedules.

Over time you learn to deal with the bad calls. It pretty much does not bother me at all anymore. I have had newborn, toddlers, middle aged and elderly deaths. I have had babies born, people doing CPR and getting a pulse back, little old ladies just needing help getting up. You name it, I've pretty much had it. It's all rewarding in the end.

I say give it a try, if you like it great, if not move on. You never know unless you try!

Lori McMud
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Posted: 5/8/2009 2:38:51 PM
My sister has been dispatching for almost 20 years. She is single and has no kids.

You will work most holidays and parts or all of weekends. You will have the "frequent fliers" - (the unfortunate souls that are lonely or mentally ill) that will call over and over.

She also has a tough time getting time off and if they are short for the next shift, you often have to work overtime.


Cops, fire & ambulance people...all the people you send out to the scene; they get closure on the event-you don't. That is stress. You as the operator were there from the beginning of the call, you kept the people on the line, you got the emergency help there and then silence. You don't really get a chance to find out what happened, if everything is ok etc. It can drive a person crazy!! So it's not only a stressful job in the sense of emergency but it also can really stress out your psychi. KWIM?



That is exactly what my sister has told me.

I agree - give it a try, if it doesn't work out you know you gave it your best.

Lori

missbitts
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Posted: 5/8/2009 3:09:54 PM
I've been a 911 dispatcher for the better part of the last 16 years. At our agency we often do get closure, though, because we have direct computer contact to all our pd/fd/md units and can type to them to ask what happened, so that's not a universal negative. But I will say that there have been times when getting that closure absolutely, positively made things WORSE. You can't "unknow" some things.

People on the outside don't often think of the physical toll the job takes on you, but shift work has already been mentioned. Add to that long hours of sitting --we can stand at our consoles, too-- but there's only so far you can move around. It's sedentary, and when you combine that with long hours and families, you don't get a lot of leftover time to exercise. Many people also have suffered with carpal tunnel in this profession. If you were to work at a place that allows you to eat at your console, you will. And it's much easier to eat m&m's while you're working than a big salad. The sugar and carbs also assuage that stress, so become more tempting. And someone is always bringing in treats -- "hey, everyone, there's cake in the kitchen!" Ya-freakin-hoo. LOL

The rooms most 911 people work in are usually mostly windowless and/or darkened (computer screens must be visible). Even day shift can seem gloomy and secluded.

That's all for now because I'm beginning to wonder why the hell I do this job myself!

Katlaw
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Posted: 5/8/2009 5:07:41 PM
You need to research exactly what the job is before you make a decision.

In my municipality we have 911 operators. Their job is to answer the 911 call by saying "Police, Fire or Ambulance"
They then transfer the caller to the service they requested. They are literally an operator.
I work as an Emergency Communications Specialist. I work in an Emergency Communications Centre that answers emergency calls for EMS and Fire.
All Police 911 calls in our city are transferred to a police officer who evaluates the call. So we have two separate emergency dispatch centres.

For EMS I am trained to assess a patient on the phone and choose the right response based on the answers to a protocal we follow. I do not free lance on the phone or choose how the units respond. The responses we send are at the recommendation of the Medical Director for our city.
A person who tripped and has an apparentbroken ankle, is breathing, is alert and has no other injuries will receive one ambulance who drive to the call no lights, no sirens. The same person, same injuries that occured when they fell off the roof of a house would get an ambulance lights and sirens. Because they fell from a height.
I find out the patients status until we deliver them to the emergency room and then nothing more unless something is reported in the media.
For Fire I also have a list of protocols to follow. The responses are based on the Fire Chiefs recommendations.

We dispatch the calls, monitor them while they are ongoing and are responsible for deploying the EMS units to make sure we have the city protected.

I work swing shifts. 2-10 hour days, 2-14 hour nights, 48 hours off and then do it again 2-10 hour days, 2-14 hour nights and then 6 days off.
The 6 days off are awesome and make the 14 hour night shifts worth it.
I work 16 shifts in a month.

We work in a fire hall. We have a full kitchen and can cook a meal. We have a workout room, lockers, showers, secure parking, uniforms and are well paid for what we do. We have a Critical Stress Incident Team so after a sad call we can talk it out and move on.
We get double time for Overtime, benefits and an awesome pension.
I do not work every holiday or weekend. I work the ones that fall on my regular work days.
We have 4 shifts that rotate so unless I am on OT I am always working with same shift.
Our dispatch centre is the 2nd floor of our building. We have windows on two sides of the room so lots of natural light. We also have an outside deck we can go out on for breaks.


For EMS I do not always take terrible calls. I have had calls I will never forget but I have also had some calls that make me very proud to know I helped someone out. Less than 1% of our calls are people that are uncontrollable, hysterical and over-whelming to deal with.
Yes people swear at me, hang up on me and yell at me. But not every caller. I have shifts where I am called an angel, I have people blessing me, thanking me and telling me I have been so kind.
Yes I am required to come in during an emergency. Tornado, Hurricane, Ice Storm, whatever natural disaster could occur I would be required to come in and help out. But really, who wants to work in Emergency Services that does not want to be at work when that stuff happens. That is why we do what we do.
And they do not happen everyday, every month or even every year. You can work a career and not have something huge happen at your dispatch ever.
I have never had to look at crime scene photos. I have had to appear in court. The court cases are easy. They ask me my background, my duties at work, we listen to a recording of the call, I verify that is my voice and why I asked the questions I did and that is all. In 10 years I have been Subpoenaed twice and once the person pleaded guilty prior to my testimony.
I love my job. I love helping people. I do multi-task well so I am sure that helps. I am a type A personality and everyone in my department is. I am not constantly stressed, I do not feel the need to rehash every call I have ever taken and try to find a way that I could have done something different.
The fact of the matter is most of the calls are not as stressful as people imagine them to be.

Before you make a decision find out what the job involves, the hours they are offering and ask for a sit along so you can see what the job is really like.
You may walk out of the sit along determined to never set foot in that dispatch centre again or you may be so pumped with excitement when you leave that you will do anything to get that job.

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