Posted in Dispatcher Life

A Typical Day

This is my third week on the phones and my first with the new trainer. The shift is more swing than night and has a healthy dose of daytime calls, which vary drastically from the calls at night.

Arrive at the office. Check work emails, read the updated procedures, and sign off in the log book. Drop my lunch off in the break room, fill my bottle with water and ice because it’s a long day of talking, then get out and pick a position for the day. I’m a call receiver and have to have my trainer next to me, so my choices are limited. Sanitize the workstation, sign off on the checklist, sign up for breaks and lunch. Get signed in to all three computers, configure both CAD systems, bring up my map, log into Rapid SOS, bring my reference maps up, get my headset plugged in and adjusted, check my volume levels, and now I’m ready to take calls.

1100-1300 – 20 calls
While most calls during midday are traffic accidents by people going out to lunch or a myriad of complaints, my shift started with a woman in the middle of a lake, not responding to people on shore. She was moving around, so we knew she was alive, but an elderly woman in cold water (and the waters around Puget Sound are always cold) is a bad thing, so I launched a water rescue. In less than an hour, I’d also had two stroke patients, a couple of burglar alarms, and a bunch of calls that needed transferring to the non-emergency line. Those don’t count on my list, though. Someone else handled them.

1300-1500 – 18 calls
Things slow down a tad after lunch. Everyone gets back to their offices or home after whatever and the calls shift. People discover things stolen and call, forget their alarm codes (prompting calls to us for possible burglaries), or want to ask questions about a case or how to deal with the car accidents they just had over lunch. State Patrol calls for aid at an accident and rattles off the address like a machine-gun. Freeway addresses are tough and it doesn’t go straight in. I flag it and ask for help because I don’t want to delay aid or waste the other dispatcher’s time. My trainer knows the location well and enters it in from his station and I move on with the call. Then we talk about where my efforts broke down and he takes a couple of minutes to show me how to approach it a different way. I took my first 15 minute break, had time to give my wife a 5 minute call, run across the building to answer the call of nature, and get back to my station and update my paperwork.

1500-1700 – 22 calls
The pace picks up as we get more calls for fires, motor vehicle accidents, and requests for assistance from other agencies. State Patrol calls with another address and my gut tightens. This time, though, I nail the address on the first go. We’re in prime time now, with rush hour traffic, people angry at their neighbors, and the occasional oddity, like a naked man filming himself in a parking garage at a mall, then moving up to a different level to film in front of different vehicle. “SUBJ WEARING BLU HAT, BLU SHOES” I can FEEL the officer’s eyebrow arching as he queries “ANYTHING ELSE?” Then I went to lunch.

1700-1900 – 17 calls
No more standing desk today because my legs are a little stiff after six hours. People are still stuck in the throes of traffic, but others are at home. The pace slows down a tad, but the problems get a little worse. Disturbances, domestic violences, and thefts start picking up. So do the medical calls. I take a call from a man who can’t breathe, gasping for air. An aid car is en route within 40 seconds, but I don’t like what I’m hearing and upgrade for a paramedic. At a minute and twenty seconds a paramedic rig is also en route. Six minutes after the call starts, they have patient contact.

Then they upgrade to cardiac arrest. The timer starts.

I’m already through two more calls at this point, a stroke patient and someone else with a blocked airway, but I can see the red cardiac arrest line on the status screen and I check back after my calls. Ten minute timer. Battalion chief calls for PD. Twenty minute timer. The medics are working hard to save the patient’s life.

The battalion chief cancels the timer. The patient didn’t make it.

My trainer comes over. We talk for a couple of minutes. I ask if I missed something, he assures me I didn’t. He wouldn’t have let me make the call if he thought I was wrong. He pointed out that in less than seven minutes of our phone ringing, we had medical professionals in his house. I know the call will be reviewed. All cardiac arrest calls are, and that’s by design. Was there more I could have done? Nope, the trainer says. You can’t upgrade from a paramedic and he had one. My trainer reminds me that we have a Peer Support Group if I need to talk, but assures me that I did my job.

The phones are still ringing. On to the next call.

A man with substance abuse issues calls. He wants to talk to our crisis team. I transfer him over, happy to do so. Another man calls because a truck cut off a motorcycle on the freeway and now they’re chasing each other at 90 miles per hour. “Let me get State Patrol for you.”

1900-2100 – 26 calls
There’s almost always a surge of calls around 1900, for whatever reason, but it quiets down tonight. The supervisor asks if my trainer or I want to order burgers. I’ve already blown my discretionary budget for the week, so I decline politely. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to see if I was rattled or needed more help, but I appreciate it still. I would have loved some fries, to be honest.

More medical calls and more thefts. Security at a hardware store has someone with a cart full of items trying to leave. They’ve paid for two things and insist they had the rest when they came into the store. A man calls because a black teenager is riding his scooter on the sidewalk. The police dispatcher sees my call and wants to know what the crime was. “Pretty sure it’s because he was black,” I reply. The dispatcher shakes her head and nods her understanding. The officer closes the call immediately and I am glad. A woman calls because her neighbor is smoking meat and she has asthma. The substance abuser calls back. He wants to talk to an officer. I schedule a call for him, pleased that the officer will actually call him and try to help him. More alarm calls. More calls from people who need medical attention. I try to be extra alert on those, but my trainer’s reminding me to trust myself. I know the problem, I know the help to send, wrap it up.

The burgers smell really good. I drink my water.

A caller is worried about her friend committing suicide. He sent a good-bye text. I send officers to check on him. A caller is worried because her friend, an alcoholic, hasn’t been heard from in three days and no one knows if he got home from Wisconsin. I send officers to check on him. The beauty bark is on fire next to the gas station. Should the attendant pour a buck of water on it? Should they turn off the gas? The substance abuser calls back, wants an officer come to come visit him right now. He’ll call back four more times in the next thirty minutes. There’s a limit to what I can do because an officer is already going to talk to him. I can’t push them to call faster. An alarm company wants to know if we dispatch for police, fire, and medical at an address. T-Mobile calls 911 and tells me they’re just testing the phone.

At 2100, I drop out of the phone queue. My shift is over. I update my training record, clear up my station, and log out of everything. My trainer’s already out the door by the time I’ve got my gear in my bag. I walk out past the other stations and my colleagues tell me good night, or to have a good weekend. 103 calls. 9 hours under the headset.

Just a typical day.


4 thoughts on “A Typical Day

  1. This was a great article. Like most people, I have very little idea what life is like for a 911 dispatcher. Now I have to read the rest!

    Liked by 2 people

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