It’s been a struggle to write over the past couple weeks. It’s not that I haven’t had the time to write, it’s that it feels as though I don’t have the energy to put my thoughts into words. It feels like no matter how hard I try, I cant find it in myself to open up enough to write. To put thoughts and words out for everyone to read.
This week is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. A week in which dispatchers around the nation shed light on those who work so diligently behind the radio. 911 call takers. Dispatchers. The first first-responders that the public comes in contact with when the chaos of darkness begins to consume their world. When disaster hits.
I work 12 hour shifts through the night, hidden from sight behind a bank of computer screens. I primarily work as the dispatcher for EMS and Municipal Fire, sending out emergency personnel to respond to medical calls. To structure fires. To cardiac arrests. To motor vehicle accidents. To the suicidal caller. To the new mother giving birth. To the frantic parents who are being walked through the process of CPR for their child who has stopped breathing.
I was told once that the night holds the darkest moments of our lives. I was told that the darkness of night holds all of our fears and struggles. Our demons hide within that blackness, just out of sight, waiting for us to stumble and fall when the darkness consumes us. I have seen that darkness. And I have faced it. We all have faced it.
It is said in dispatch that we get more of the interesting calls at night. More domestic disputes and violence. We get more of the prowlers and the suspicious people calls. The crazy people. And while a lot of this is true, when something happens, everything happens at once.
We go from having a screen clear of calls one second, and the next moment you are struggling to figure out what unit to send to each call. It’s not just that single call that comes in, it is that cardiac arrest where your partner is walking a family member through CPR, the structure fire that came in at the same time, and the truck that just flipped upside down and the caller doesn’t know where they are at. And on top of all this, any call that you answer or send someone to could be your friend or family member.
There have been some nights recently where I have struggled. There have been nights recently when I have asked myself “Is this really worth it?” Was I really doing something that was helping people? The darkness of night brought forth doubt.
There have been nights recently where I have gotten angry with people that I work with. When a coworker makes a mistake, I have lashed out in anger. I have held that mistake against them, and the trust that allows us to work as a team has begun to corrode. And I find myself asking if I will ever trust them again. The darkness of night has stolen that from me.
There is something that I have discovered about the darkness of night; it eventually fades to day. Another thing I have noticed, it is easier to see the flickers of light in the darkness.
Sometimes I find myself going from one small victory to the next. Like when your EMS unit comes over the radio to state that the patient is breathing again. When fire personnel announces that nobody is inside the structure as it burns through the night. That the patient has been removed from the vehicle and is being transported. That the lost child has been found. That officers are out with the person you talked to for the past half hour as they hid behind a locked door.
When the voice on the other end of the radio finally responds. That everything is 10-4 (okay).
We don’t really think about telecommunicators as emergency responders. We don’t go, but we are always there as the voice on the other end. Be it a phone line or a radio, we are the voices that cuts through the silence. The men and women behind the scene.
When the  hits the fan, we are the first to go into action.
I think the struggle to put thoughts into words is that if I speak them, or put them down in writing, they become real. I struggle because as much as I try, I can not leave it all at the communications center. I can’t let go of the hundreds of thousands of calls I have answered when the line disconnects and the next begins to ring. They have become a part of me.
Every victory. Every failure. Every setback. They have become a part of who I am. And no matter how much I fear them at times, I am thankful for each of them.
There is a saying that between the thin blue line of law enforcement and the thin red line of the fire departments (and the thin white line of EMS) there is a thin gold line that holds everything together. I am proud to be part of the family that makes up that thin gold line of dispatch.
And in the dark of night, I will be the voice on the other end.