Posts Tagged ‘dispatch’

The Warrior Within

On Friday, after I got off from my twelve hour shift at work, I drove down to Lander University to attend an Active Shooter training designed specifically for Dispatchers and Telecommunicators. Put on by one of the SLED officers, it was an amazing class full of facts and statistics, but more importantly, personal accounts, stories, and emotions.

The officer made it clear from the beginning that Dispatchers and Call Takers in a Communications Center were just as valuable, if not more critical, than the officers on the ground. He made it know that it is time to accept that we are a part of the first responder family. Those of us who work in the Communications Center are no longer civilians. Without our voices behind the radio, officers would never receive the call. Would not be able to respond.

Dispatch

As he shared his experiences of talking with and interviewing the dispatchers and first responders that responded to Sandy Hook and Aurora, as well as countless other incidents, he put the faces and names of the victims up on the screen. He had us look at them and listen as he told us who they were, what made them special. He made them real for us.

He made sure that while we classify these incidents as “Active Shooter” incidents, these acts were not about guns, it is a issue about violence. It doesn’t matter if a subject uses a gun or a knife, a car or a hammer, the goal is the same: to inflict as many casualties as possible by any means necessary. These acts are pure evil, and the only way you can combat evil is to become a warrior and face it head on. To crush its head beneath your feet.

His passion was evident in every word and syllable that he spoke. “Law enforcement runs towards the sound of gunfire,” he told us. “We bleed so that the kids don’t.” The goal of first responders in a mass casualty incident is to save as many lives as possible, but to do that, they have to stop the killing first, then stop the dying.

The sooner an officer engages with a subject, the quicker the killing stops. And before an officer can respond, a call taker must gather a location and a dispatcher must give out the call over the radio. This is the critical step between Telecommunicators and first responders on the ground.

The remainder of the class, we talked about what Dispatchers can do from behind the radio, saving lives through proactively supporting those who arrive first on the scene. From organizing staging and containment to getting more resources before the requests are made, to gathering and providing information collected through callers.

When a disaster hits, be it a active shooter incident or a tornado or the death of someone in front of you, you have to make a choice. You have to move. You have to act. Do you flee or fight? Do you falter or freeze?

Like the stages of grief, there are three stages of responding to a disaster. The quicker you move through them, the faster you act. Denial. Deliberation. Decisive moment.

We all want to believe that something would never happen to us. We want to believe that “it”(whatever it happens to be) cant or wont happen here. But the fact isn’t if it will happen, but when. And when it does, you have to face the reality of it. Denial has no survival value.

You must deliberate at what you will do. And until you are in that moment, you will not know the choice that you will make. But that choice is made through experience and training and preparation (or the lack of it). And once that choice is made, you must act.

The quicker you act, the more lives you will save. The quicker you respond, the faster your units get in route. The faster law enforcement personnel is notified, the quicker the killing stops.

The more you train and prepare yourself for what will happen, the quicker you make that decision. The sooner we can stop the dying.

When we, dispatchers and telecommunicators, get behind the mike, we are no longer civilians. We become lifelines and support for our officers and first responders. We take up that mantle of the warrior and fight the darkness and evil of the world that threatens to destroy what we have come to love.

One of the things the SLED officer said was that the only way into the Warrior Class, as he called it, was to learn how to love something. To love with all your heart. And until we learn to love, we will never rise to be warriors to fight to protect our communities.

It’s not enough to hope that we know how to react, but we have to train to be warriors. We have to get angry and let the rage give us the strength to fight. We have to learn to go on the offensive instead of constantly thinking defensively. But most importantly, we have to learn to love.

In the end, dispatchers and first responders get paid for what we are prepared to do.

As I headed home after the four hour training, I was filled with courage and the knowledge knowing that when the next big thing happen, I know a more than I did before and that training could mean the difference between saving someones life and having their name on another board full of victims.

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Rough Nights and the Fight That Matters

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 [edit] hits the fan, we are the first to go into action.

Dispatch

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.

Lost in the Background

I haven’t written recently. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost focus. Or been stressed out. Or not been in the right frame of mind to put words to paper (or, in this case, to blog). Or maybe I’ve made the choice to keep silent because I know my words would only divide us. Put splinters into fresh wounds that we, as a community, have sustained.

I don’t have a good answer. The simple fact is that I haven’t written. And the words are even more difficult to find. Now more than ever before.

There are so many things that I want to say. But I don’t.

It’s not just here on social media. It’s at work. It’s when I’m surrounded by friends and family. It’s when I feel the safest, surrounded by those I love. Surrounded by my family.

 

Recently, I have been stressed. I have been unfocused. I have been lost. Off balance. Stumbling on unsteady footsteps.

I find it harder and harder to get up and prepare myself to go to work. I walk into the dispatch center and fear putting on the headset because I know what is on the other line. My back tightens up as I walk into the room.

I’ve been told I have too much compassion. That in a couple years, I will burn out and become bitter and heartless like the rest of the people I work with. I have been told countless times that I am too kind. That the dispatch center will change me. And I’ve replied: I refuse.

I’ve found myself distancing myself from some of the people I spend 12 hours with each night. Instead of joining in on negative conversations (or conversations about who and what people did on their days off) I find myself silent.

I don’t say what I want to say. So many times I find myself biting my tongue. Instead of calling them out over what they say about others, about politics, about the world around them, I fade away into the background.

I haven’t spoken out for the same reasons I haven’t written. And I don’t have a good answer.

Last weekend, I got the opportunity to hitch a ride down to Louisiana with my parents and spend some quality time with my Sister, Brother-In-Law, and all my nieces and nephews. Pretty much, I spent a lot of time holding my 7 week old niece.

I just sat there, with her laying on my chest. And it was beautiful. Peaceful.

It wasn’t about me. I didn’t worry about the stress of working. I didn’t have to be there, but I made a choice to get away and reconnect with the things that are important to me. I was able to recenter myself, rediscovering the balance that connects us to one another.

Recently, I’ve dived head-first into my art. It’s my way of escaping. Of silencing the world and conquering my own darkness.

It’s a way to express myself without being loud.

It’s a way to bring to light the silent struggles we all face.

It’s a way to answer the questions you didn’t know you had.

It’s a way to bring balance back into the chaos that surrounds me every day.

Sometimes, in the silence of working late into the morning hours, I wonder if fading into the background is worth it. I constantly question, wondering if I should speak out. Would anyone listen?

Do I speak out against the violence that has swept across our nation? Across our world? Will another voice pave the way towards peace? If I take a stand against the hatred and negativity, will peoples attitudes change? If I speak out during conversations in the workplace, will people realize that their words have created a hostile workplace?

I’ve discovered over the past couple weeks that you can either fade into the background or you can be the agent of change that fights for peace. And sometimes you have to stand up and fight. Sometimes you have to make some noise to be heard.

And for those of us that are more comfortable remaining quiet, not causing ripples over the waters, we must learn to pick and choose our battles. Is the energy worth the fight. Worth the change

Sometimes, the battle can be fought without words. As a silent witness.

Over the past couple days, something beautiful has happened. A simple hashtag that I am proud to be a part of: #IAM911.

The 9-1-1 Call Taker and Dispatch position is currently classified as a clerical position. These members of emergency services that work behind the scene of every single emergency are seen as secretaries. In an effort to reclassify public safety telecommunicators (the official title for all call-takers and dispatchers) to a protective classification, individuals around the nation have taken up the calling to share their stories, proving that they are so much more than a voice on the other end of the phone.

They are the heroes in the night. The unrecognized angels who are the calm voice or reason in an emergency. They are the anchor, the rock in the storm for all responders.

I encourage you to go listen to their stories. Go read their words. And give them the support that they deserve. It’s a battle that we don’t have to face alone.

Sometimes, you find the reason to break away from the background. You find purpose.

Learning to be at Peace

I work in an extremely stressful environment. A dispatch center is full of chaos and each call could be a matter of life and death. We handle all calls for emergency services; Fire, law, and EMS. And we dispatch for the City, small towns, Sheriff’s Office, city fire, and EMS (county fire has someone sitting in the dispatch center as well, and we have to transfer some calls over to the Highway Patrol).

It’s a fast paced, balls-to-the-walls environment at times. It’s loud with the phones ringing, people shouting out information, and (sometimes) people yelling for assistance.

I work with some strong individuals, people with powerful personalities. Where I am comfortable being the unknown face behind the scenes, they are more outspoken, louder, and sometimes overpowering. Part of it is that some of them have been there for years. They are used to the stress of 12 hour shifts, multiple calls holding, and officers who are extra vigilant with their excessive traffic stops.

There are times where I struggle. When I feel overwhelmed. Where it seems like I am just trying to keep my head above water.

But even in those moments, I know I am at peace. I’ve learned to manage my emotions. To keep a level head, to know that even though I may feel off balance, I am still present. I’ve been told that I seem at peace, calm, almost meditative at times. I don’t get angry at calls that come in. I try not to raise my voice at my coworkers. Even when I really want to call them out on their stupidity.

It took me years before I discovered how to be at peace with myself.

Many years ago, a friend of mine was reading a memoir from a monk in a monastery who had devoted his life to prayer. In one conversation, my friend shared that the monk lived in a constant state of prayer. He prayed at all times, especially while he worked. He lived his life and devoted everything he did, big or small to the glory of God. I found it interesting that his biggest struggle was devoted prayer time at the monastery, when all the monks set aside a time of day to devote themselves to prayer.

This monk questioned why he needed to devote a certain time of the day to prayer when every action he made in his life was a constant prayer to God.

Ever since hearing about this monk, I have tried to follow his example of prayer.

This has gotten me through some rough times. It has helped me to manage the stress of disaster response with AmeriCorps, long days on the trail doing conservation work, and the chaos of the dispatch office.

I meditate. I pray. I do breathing exercises. I make sure I recenter myself and constantly rediscover why I do what I do.

And through all this, I am at peace with myself. At peace with the chaos that surrounds me. And at peace with my relationship with God.

My faith is the only reason why I haven’t collapsed under the stress of this life. And prayer is the only strength that has gotten me through some of the darkest nights. When I learned to be still before my God, El Roi, the God who sees me, I learned that everything I do is a form of worship, a praise to the Father above.

I won’t say that the stress ever goes away. Neither does the fear. The worry. The constant questions if I’ve done everything that I can. All of that still remains. They will never go away, but I’ve made my peace with them.