Posted in Uncategorized


It’s great being back at work. I’m well aware of how much I have to be grateful for this year as we roll into my first working holiday. A year ago, I was just about of unemployment funds and still couldn’t get my first break into public safety. I’d just passed my first interview with a police agency, but was number two on the list, so I didn’t think anything would come of it.

Now, a year later, I got that job, only to lose it to COVID-19 finances, but it led me directly to my current agency. I’m finishing my sixth month at work, released as a call receiver, and getting some experience under my belt. I work with an incredible group of professionals, all of whom have taught me a lot. I stand at my desk for ten hours a shift, grinning most of the time, because I’m doing something I feel is important and trying my hardest to make a difference.

I’m very fortunate. 2020 as a whole was a total shitstorm, but this job was the highlight of the year.

I’m excited to see what the holiday will bring. Our food drive ended yesterday. I don’t know what the total was, but I hope it helps. Our planned potluck is sort of modified. Everything has to be invidually-portion servings, which sort of kills my plan for bringing in cottage pie (I don’t have sixty-plus disposable containers for it). I think I’m bringing chocolates and a box full of single-serving potato chips and flaming hot Cheetos. When I get home, it will be my Friday night. I get to stay home with my beloved wife for the next three days.

I pray most people do the same.

Don’t get together with your family and friends. COVID-19 isn’t worth it.
Don’t drink and drive.
Don’t get angry or hurt each other.

Do be grateful that we’re almost through the year and we’re together with the people who love us.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Don’t call me at work.

Posted in Dispatcher Life

Back in the Saddle

Today was my first day back after a much-appreciated 10 day vacation. Because our training process is so long and pretty darned tough, they thought we’d appreciate some time to recharge our batteries.

And HOW!

It helped that my time off coincided with my fifth anniversary. My wife took some time off as well and we…pretty much stayed at home because of the pandemic. We did do a road trip around the Olympic Peninsula, but that was less awesome than we’d hoped because A) the beach was cold, B) you couldn’t actually see the mountains from the southern route we took and C) by the time we got back to the mountains, it was pretty much pitch black.

So, the rest of our time off was a staycation.

Today, however, I was back at work. Happy to be so, actually. Today went pretty well, too. I didn’t get any comments about my calls from the dispatchers (yay!) and I fielded the usual array of calls without any difficulty. Even got a couple of freeway addresses locked in.

It was good to be back.

Admittedly, I forgot my lunch at home so it was a very HUNGRY day back, I still enjoyed it. Got to talk to some other peers I don’t normally get to interact with, which is cool. I definitely feel like I’m being (slowly) welcomed into the fold. Alas, I also got an email from my boss letting me know that my schedule would change on January 4 and my sweet, sweet shift with Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off would probably be gone.

Oh, well. It’ll be fun while it lasts!

To conclude today’s post, I want to remind everyone that COVID-19 is real, and it fucking kills people. I got a call today from a frantic daughter because both of her COVID-positive parents were having difficulty breathing. When I got them on the phone, speech wasn’t possible. I only heard wheezing and the strains of someone trying to get air into their lungs.

I don’t know what happened to them, of course, but I know they got a ride from the paramedic instead of an aid car or an ambulance.

Stay home. If you can’t stay home, stay home. If you REALLY can’t stay home, wear a mask.

Don’t call me at work.

Posted in Training

Released on Call Receiving!

Wow. It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged. Apologies for that, but it’s been a tough grind. I busted my butt to improve my ratings at work (and succeeded!), which took two weeks. Time enough for me to meet standards in all categories across the board. My trainer recommended me for evaluation.

That was the past week.

Three nights in and my evaluator stopped the eval. Said my documentation wasn’t up to snuff. I was crushed and shocked, but I nodded and accepted that I’d be going back to training for another two weeks at least. Then I went home to sob into my pillow and attempt to resurrect my sense of self worth.

Plot twist!

The next day, I got a call from our training coordinator. They felt the eval was stopped unnecessarily, that my work was good and my documentation, while not perfect, met standards. I was to come back for my final scheduled day of evaluation as planned.

To describe me as stunned would be an understatement. I had fantasized that somehow things would right themselves, but never dared to hope for it.

So, today, I returned to work and put the headset on. This was day shift, a much busier shift, with a broader array of call types. I got a LOT of feedback from the evaluator and felt positive she was going to fail me (again). Against all odds, and despite me not offering a bribe, she passed me. I couldn’t believe it.

Still can’t, actually.

Her parting words of wisdom were to project more confidence so that callers would believe in me. Also, so did our training coordinator. And then she made me announce my new status to the communications room at large, which embarrassed the hell out of me.

It wasn’t a dream, though. I have to be back at work in 10 hours, but I’ll be working on my own. No trainer in my ear. I also have weekends off for the rest of the year. I’m convinced this is compensation for being bounced around to soooooo many training schedules.

So, that’s it. I’m a call receiver now. Not just a trainee. I won’t be in training again for another five or six months when I get picked for my first radio. I still have lots to learn. Each day is a new set of challenges, but I have earned a place amongst my peers and colleagues.

I am 911.

Posted in Training

Mental/Emotional – UPDATE

So, the chocolate ice cream must have worked or something. The rest of the week was great.

This isn’t really a post, I just want to share something huge for me. Telecommunicators at my agency are judged on seven categories. To get out of training, I have to “Meet Standards” in all seven categories. Last week, I was passing two. My goal for this week was to get that up to four.

I passed six.

If I can keep doing what I’m doing and not miss ANY safety questions next week, I should be sent to eval.

Fingers crossed!

Posted in Training


This is a call type we use when we believe someone involved has an aptly-named mental and/or emotional problem. Sometimes it’s the caller, informing us that they have ghosts in their van and they would like the police to come out and do something about it. Other times, it’s the person screaming in the street about spectrums and relays at 0300. Sometimes we use the notation to alert the officer, firefighter, or EMS personnel that someone involved sounds potentially unreliable at best and dangerous at worst.

Sometimes it’s just the rookie dispatcher getting too much into his own way.

I spent the weekend in a teensy bit of a funk. My academy classmate was released on phones just before my weekend. Good for her! She worked hard, is super smart, and totally deserved it. I’m proud and pleased for her.

Also, rampantly jealous.

Our training supervisor even apologized because she knows I’ve had to bounce around schedules far more than usual, I lost my trainer for a month and my fill-in trainers weren’t giving me the same level of feedback, and that I’m “right where I’m supposed to be.”

Like most dispatchers, however, I’m very much a perfectionist. So, I spent time going over my reports, working on things I need to improve this week. I showed up on my Monday and was a whole new me. I only missed five calls out of the dozens I took and those only by a hair. Last night, I missed six, but I felt like I was doing way worse because I was getting more feedback from my trainer.

Today, I’m totally in a funk, even though I know I’m doing SO much better than I was last week. My trainer even said I’d be going to eval in the next couple of weeks. That’s huge. But I still have a bit of the blues and the stress, for the first time, is gnawing at my butt.

To help combat this, I’m acknowledging the stress, reminding myself that I’m way ahead of where I was last week, which was already an improvement, and eating chocolate ice cream.

Because I’m an adult, damn it!

Posted in Dispatcher Life

A Sense of Belonging

Training is going much better this week. The things I got dinged on last week are mostly behind me, and my trainer is using more positive, future-focused language. Much needed from a morale standpoint. Like most dispatchers, I’m pretty Type A. Driven, perfectionist, and harder on myself than others. Watching my trainer sign off things on our 10 page checklist felt good as it finally shows progress.

That’s not all that I’m really enjoying, though. A lot of little things that indicate a bit of camaraderie. Really liking those.

The people at my agency have been super polite and positive since Day 1. I truly feel like I lucked into a gold mine of a work situation and give thanks each time I step into the comm center, but there’s a definite sense of isolation for newbies. Even the people who are just released as call-takers are treated differently than myself and my academy classmate, a thin gold wall, as it were.

Since we finished academy and got out on the floor, there’s been a thaw. Spring comes faster each day. For instance, one of the other call takers and I were chatting between calls and she said I needed to get added to the group chat, a text group that is mostly used for arranging time-trades and such, but also just for talking. I, of course, happily supplied my number and beamed as texts would come in sometimes.

A supervisor and trainer, and someone I honestly think is dangerously brilliant and focused at his work sent me an email. He’d ordered some things on behalf of the group and I pitched in my share of the bill. His reply was a simple, “Thank you, brother.” I hear people throw “bro” and “brother” around a lot, but this guy doesn’t. Being seen as a peer by him felt awesome.

Finally, last night, around end of shift, a strange confluence of events happened and five of us got off work at the same time. Typically, it’s just two people (three if there’s a trainee like me). It’s not often that people wait around after their shift (Thanks, Covid!), but I was stuffing my things into my bag and my R2 unit and I heard one of the dispatchers tell me to hurry up. I looked back and saw them waiting for me so we could all go down together.

Earning a place among professionals like this has been (and will still be) hard work, but damned if it didn’t feel worth every minute as we strolled together towards the garage, joking about things and collectively groaning about others. I chose my career wisely. I just have to fight tooth and nail to never give it up.

Posted in Training

Training Frustrations

I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, primarily because I’ve gone through several shift changes (and I’ve another one starting this weekend). Made it tough to do things in the normal fashion. This weekend’s difficulties are exacerbated by the wildfire smoke from California and Oregon blanketing Washington State.

Really not helping…

Of course, the smoke not only makes life miserable, it makes things dangerous for several groups of people—asthmatics, people with lung and heart conditions, the elderly or very young, and pregnant women. Nearly all of my medical calls on my last shift were for people with shortness of breath. SOB is a pretty broad category, but it can indicate a number of deadly issues, so most calls end up getting upgraded to a medic.

Medics are a finite resource but we can’t tell over the phone when someone’s just annoyed by the smoke and are coughing a bit more or when someone’s life may be in jeopardy, so if the symptoms meet the criteria—we dispatch the medics.

I’m holding out hope that the smoke will start to clear out towards the weekend. If the weather geniuses are even kind of right and we get some rain (finally), it’ll make a huge difference.

As for me, I’m just finishing up my time with my third trainer in call receiving. Starting Saturday, I’ll go back to my first trainer and I’m excited about that. I felt frustrated with myself working with my second trainer because if he spoke up, it’s because I was screwing up. He was otherwise content to let me take the calls, scratch my way through. My trainer this past week, however, wasn’t waiting for anything. Constant interruptions and prompts, usually just as I was about to say the very thing she was. Plus, on more than a few occasions, she wouldn’t be muted and the caller would hear her and not know how to respond to a second voice.

That isn’t to say she hasn’t taught me a lot. She has and she’s helped me refine my workflow. She’s like me in that she’s had a rather colorful life, so we totally get along, but I’m trying to stretch my wings and it feels like she’s buffeting me with hers.

She said two things that really stood out to me, however. The first was that I was working too hard, that my narratives are longer and more complex than they need to be. “Write it for a five year-old,” she ordered. That’s definitely going to speed things up for me because as fast as I type (about 80 WPM, corrected), sometimes there’s dead air while I type up my notes.

The second thing was that she explained she wasn’t prompting me because I didn’t know the stuff. I do—I’ve shown I could handle just about any call, but I’m taking too long. Too long on the police side starting my call type and priority. Too long on the fire/medical side writing up long narratives that no one is probably going to read. Just enough for the short report will suffice.

As a writer, that’s a tough habit to break, but I’m working on it.

She said she sees me roughly halfway through my call-receiving training. No guarantees about that, but if she had to peg me, that’s where it’d be. Now she wants me to refine my game. Be faster with the writing, be quicker with the assignments, be more assertive and control the calls, and be decisive and know when to get off the line.

Said that way, I felt a tiny bit of relief. I learned a long time ago that speed came with time and repetition. My trainers didn’t try to force speed out of my initially because they wanted me to get things right first. Accuracy was more important than speed for a new call receiver, but now that my accuracy is adequate, it’s time to get faster. She wasn’t prompting me because I don’t know my stuff, but because it’s time for me to start performing like a pro.

She also said she knew I could do it. Burglar alarms, fire alarms, and most medical calls, I’m in and out in under two minutes. Fire calls, too. I just need to keep working at those things and I’ll eventually get released.

So, starting at 0300 tomorrow morning, that’s what I’ll work on.

Posted in Dispatcher Life

Striking Contrasts

I knew when I became a telecommunicator that I’d hear terrible things. It was just part of the job. I didn’t realize the depths to which they could go, though. Just yesterday, four calls in particular stood out, two pairs of calls, really.

My first call of the shift was from a mother calling 911 on her (young) teenage daughter for assaulting her and her other children. The daughter had just been sent back from a group home due to COVID-19 and was verbally and physically abusing the rest of her family. The mother sounded upset, hurt as well as angry, but also determined. She wants the daughter gone for the sake of her other children.

Hours later, I take a call from a frantic set of parents that their daughter is going to kill herself. A young teenager had climbed up onto the roof and was threatening to jump. The precipitating incident was the parents cutting off the girl’s internet access to prevent her from gaming online. Her parents sounded shocked and desperate. They just don’t want to lose her.

Two separate families, circumstances, etc., and yet both broken to the point of calling 911.

In the latter part of my shift, I get another pair of calls, this time for cardiac arrests. For emergency medical dispatch, these are the highest priority calls we have. Time is brain and brain is life.

Caller one was a frantic woman whose husband wasn’t conscious or breathing. She screamed at me to get an ambulance out there. I told her I’d gotten help started but we needed to do CPR. She said she couldn’t, and shrieked for an ambulance. We can’t say help is on the way in this state (lawsuit liability concerns), but I assured her that as soon as I had her address I’d let the aid crew know she needed help but we needed to start CPR immediately. More screaming, more swearing. This couple lived on the remote edge of the city, almost in a rural location so the nine minutes it took for the first aid car to get there is not wholly unexpected. Eventually I persuaded her to do CPR and she must have pumped on her husband’s chest fifty times. When the aid crew arrived, they said it wasn’t cardiac arrest and the patient was alive.

CPR is hard, for the giver and receiver. Usually if someone’s not in cardiac arrest, they immediately try to push their rescuer off. This patient didn’t and my trainer and I were both astonished. I sure wouldn’t want someone crunching my ribs 50 times.

The second caller was a woman whose uncle was unconscious and not breathing. Again, I asked her to start telephone CPR with me and she complied straight away. Everything I asked her to do, she did. She tried so hard, counted out loud with me, and did it for eight minutes. She just wanted help for her uncle and tried to keep it together to make a difference for him.

The aid crew and then the medics got on scene and worked for another thirty minutes. They asked for a chaplain. The patient didn’t survive.

Posted in Dispatcher Life

Recovery Position

I’ve worked with quite a few trainers in my brief stint as a public safety telecommunicator. They’ve all impressed me with their depth of knowledge and experience, as well as their professionalism and dedication to bringing me and my classmate to our fullest potential. No attitude, no condescension, nothing but guidance, explanations, and words of experience.

After my “typical day” last week, I knew I needed to take some time to process what happened. I acknowledged my feelings, my fears about what had happened, and what I wanted moving forward.

Our senior trainer once told me to not get wrapped up in the outcome of a call, but rather what I can do to improve. So, that’s what I’m trying to do.

It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows here, so best take advantage of it!

My wife and I took a long walk today, partially to enjoy the last gasps of summer in Puget Sound, but also to just get a bit of exercise. Stress builds up, as do feelings. My wife and I talked a lot this weekend, and keeping this journal is helpful, too. Since I started back in June, we haven’t been able to spend too much time together and I promised I would not neglect our marriage to pursue this career goal and she’s been very supportive.

Thanks, honey.

I also made use of the time to drive along some of the state routes that run through my jurisdiction, to get a feel for them and where they come into play. This kind of research isn’t required by my agency, but I am determined to be the best I can in this job. No half-assing this. When there are gaps in my knowledge, I’ll fill them. When I make a mistake, I’ll learn from it. When I fall down, I’ll get back up.

This morning, I head back to the office to put the headset on again and go through another week of learning and trying to help others. Because I didn’t ignore my feelings, I feel prepared to go back. Because I have a fantastic support system, I’m not afraid to go back.

Even so, try not to call me at work.

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.