Becoming a 911 Dispatcher

So, my journey to becoming a 911 dispatcher is fairly long and storied. I knew almost nothing about the process when I first made the decision, so I thought this page my tell you a little about who I am and how I made the decision and how I got the job.

A year ago, I was working in the videogame industry. Very unhappy with the work, but I have a wife and a mortgage, so work it is and I was grateful for it. To my utter shock, I lost my job and found myself wondering what the heck I was going to do next. I’ve had a fairly varied employment history. I started off in IT after college. Quit that to go be an archaeologist for four years, then a forensic anthropologist for one-plus years in Iraq, then back to IT until the Great Recession hit. After that, I became a writer, mostly working in the videogame industry. Wrote some games, a novella, and four novels (note: the games were what made me the most money), and then I got into product management, which was my last job.

I do not have a head for business. I excel at staying cool under fire (literally), multitasking, and communicating. As I pondered my next job, I kept thinking back to my time in Iraq. I was the juniorest member of the mass graves investigation team and it was exceedingly fulfilling doing something that really mattered. I realized that this came from service to others and inspiration struck. I was going to be a cop!

Wait, no. That’s Nathan Fillion on The Rookie. I don’t have his personal trainer, so I don’t think becoming a cop at my age is the best plan. I’m terrified of heights, so that cancels out firefighting. I’d love a job as an EMT and then paramedic, but most of those have to be firefighters these days. Wait, the true first responder is the person taking the call.

Boom. It hit me hard and everything about it seemed perfect for me. So, I did some research. I love doing research. I read articles, looked into the employers near me, watched the YouTube videos, and talked it all over with my wife, who completely supported my decision.

Okay. Now, how to get there?

First up was the dispatcher exam. There are several in Washington State. I took the one from Public Safety Testing and signed up for several agencies I hoped to interview with. I did pretty well on the test and had my first interview two weeks later.

I was not selected. But I wasn’t crushed! I persevered!

I applied with the Washington State Patrol. Had to take their test, which was fine. I actually enjoyed it. They were gracious enough to let me do a sit-along at their Marysville office, where I spoke to several very helpful people. Interviewed with the manager and a sergeant.

I was not selected, but I kept applying.

Finally, in September, I applied with a police department that still had their own dispatch center (many of the other agencies in Washington consolidated and use specific services like Snohomish County 911 and NORCOM 911). I had a phone interview, then another, then a face-to-face interview…in DECEMBER. Government jobs take a LOT of time and effort to secure. Prospective dispatchers, keep this in mind.

I was selected! Sort of. I was number two on the list, but I had passed the interview! A bittersweet victory, but I took it as a positive sign that I was making progress. I kept applying, figuring that I was only a backup for their prime candidate.

In February, I got a call from the department. Number One had failed his background check. Was I still available and interested?

Hell. Yes.

This jumpstarted the most difficult portion of the hiring process. The background paperwork for me ended up being 84 pages of statements, histories, and contacts. TEN references. Then an interview with the background investigator. Then a polygraph examination, which required me to hand write most of the same information in the 84 pages as fast as humanly possible. I passed the polygraph and the background check. Then came the interview with the chief of police, where I was given my conditional offer of employment. The chief was very kind and I really enjoyed the interview, but the conditions were I still had to pass a medical check and a psych check. Both of those lasted several hours, but in the end, I was pronounced fit for duty, just over a month since I got the callback asking if I was still interested.

I just had to wait for my start date, which was a month later.

Unfortunately, I got a call from the chief. COVID-19 and its expected economic impact caused a hiring freeze by the city government. Even me, scheduled to start in a matter of hours. The chief was so disappointed and apologized several times.

Okay. Now this was a punch in the guts. What was I going to do now?

I wasn’t giving up, but I was told the hiring freeze was probably going to be 12-18 months at a minimum. I told the chief that the minute the freeze was lifted to give me a call. I would come running. The chief knew I wanted to get to work, however, and suggested I call a couple of other agencies and explain that I’ve already done the hard/expensive stuff. I’m a fully-vetted candidate just looking for a job.

So, I did that. A career in public safety means that nothing will ever go as planned, but you have to keep making moves until the mission is accomplished. The HR manager at a nearby 911 agency graciously took my call and is looking into my situation. I don’t know if it’ll result in a job, but until I get my headset, I’m going to keep trying.

After all, a river cuts through stone not because of its power, but because of its persistence.