I took my first 911 calls today. Our trainer announced a brief break and when we came back, he threw our headsets at us and said “Let’s take some calls only this time, you’re doing the talking.”
My fellow trainee and I both gulped audibly.
Granted, this is our final week of academy and I already have my call receiving training assignment for next week, so it’s not like taking calls was outside the realm of possibility, but I think he wanted to have a little chuckle at our expense and gauge how we’re doing. He was sitting right there with us (we’re all masked to hell and back because some 911 dispatchers have been exposed to COVID-19 and exposed their communications centers) so if something went wrong, he could step in and take over.
My first call was a medical emergency. It was one I’d drilled on over and over—someone calling in about a person having a seizure. I knew what to do, what to ask, and what to advise. The call went quickly and I got the right help sent to them in the right time.
Other calls were pretty much where I expected them to be and I didn’t flounder. A man found a live grenade in his grandpa’s belongings. A convenience store clerk was angry because a teenager had stolen some beer. An elderly man was distraught because he got a scam call and was afraid he’d be punished for doing something totally normal or have his tenuous finances wrecked by the scammer. An elderly woman was found unconscious at home.
Six people misdialed 911…and those were just the calls that came to me.
Overall, I grinned as I worked because I’ve worked hard to earn the right to take these calls. This is just the end of my first phase of training, but it still took 10 weeks to speak to a caller.
It was a big day for me. I’ll probably remember the first call for a long time, but telecommunicators are encouraged to move on from the calls. Don’t focus on the outcome, but rather what we can improve, I’m told. Part of that is a coping mechanism—we won’t always be able to help people—but it’s also about not getting wrapped up in “acing a call” or “bombing a call.” You make a mistake, you learn from it, you do better in the future.
The next call is always waiting.