National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week

For almost 40 years now, the second week of April each year has been recognized as National Public Safety Telecommunicators’ Week. This is a week when those who are often overlooked and rarely thanked are recognized and acknowledged for the crucial and extraordinary role they play in public safety.

Emergency Communications is not a career you join for notoriety or fame, as dispatchers and call-takers are often dismissed, overlooked, and generally, forgotten about. Unless you have had to call 911 (and even if you have, at some point), who thinks about that job, really? Rarely seen, it’s easy to forget the many, many professionals it takes to keep things running smoothly. It is also not the career field for you if you want to have a “normal” schedule, want to be able to attend all your friends’ and family’s functions, or want to have a low-stress schedule and job to visit every day.

A career in Public Safety Communications will provide you with sometimes lasting memories of those you tried to help, voices of the helpless as they witnessed their loved ones dying, breaths of those who reached out in desperation or hopefulness, screams from mothers who cannot find their children or worse, have found their children harmed, and the unsettling tone of an officer when you know something is not right and they are in potentially grave danger. This career field may also furnish you the opportunity for PTSD, excessive overtime hours, negative health effects and risks, high stress levels, anxiety, and depression. Numerous studies have linked the stress and vicarious trauma experienced by 911 professionals to ongoing emotional damage and disorders.

Emergency Dispatcher has been repeatedly named as one of the most stressful jobs there is in numerous studies. These multi-tasking experts speak to people in crisis, often on the worst days of their lives. They provide the calm voice in a tornado of emotion, the rock-solid logic in situations beyond conscious comprehension, the steadfast voice of devotion and support to field responders.

Dispatchers listen to callers yell at them to send the police faster, curse at them for perceived injustices that have nothing to do with the dispatcher or even police or fire at all, and listen to he-said-she-said stories convoluted to the point you wonder when people stopped being adults. Dispatchers listen to the public critique their job performance, with little to no actual knowledge of the job or circumstance. They listen to others label them as clerical workers, with no understanding of the highly technical and skilled work they do. And through it all, they answer the next call, not knowing what it might be.
Why would anyone sign up for this?? The answers vary as much as the diverse group of individuals talented enough to do this job, but it always comes down to this: they care. Sure, they have dark senses of humor to be able to emotionally handle the horrible things people do to each other; they joke about having black souls or hearts; they learn how to compartmentalize circumstances and emotions so that they can cope with the plethora of situations they come in contact with each shift. They sometimes experience unexpected side effects of the job like no longer being able to sit through an entire movie without doing something else on the side, hating to talk on the phone outside of work, a disdain for empty small talk, or always thinking of the worst that can happen because they actually deal with the worst. But each time that phone rings, they are there to answer.

They are there to obtain information and details to send assistance and to help field responders not only provide the absolute best care possible but to be able to do it safely so they can go home to their own families and lives. Dispatchers are there to calm the scared, settle the upset, and simmer the deranged. They do it because they believe in what they are doing and they truly want to help. And they do it whether you know their job title or not, whether their officers and firefighters know their dispatchers’ names or not, and whether they are thanked or not.

That is what makes National Public Safety Telecommunicators’ Week so special. It is a week when these ultimate professionals are reminded that though often unseen, they are not invisible. Please keep that in mind this NPSTW. It may be just another week with business as usual, but it’s also much, more more. It is an expression of gratitude towards those who seamlessly perform their complex role with little to no recognition. It is a gesture of support from those who dispatchers tirelessly support, assist, and defend - their co-workers, whether they be police officers, animal services officers, firefighters, paramedics, city services officers; their families; and their citizens. And it’s an expression of loyalty that although dispatchers are not there for the recognition, they are worthy recipients of it.

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