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

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 Training

Winding Down

Finished yet another busy week in academy training. Got certified to handle medical calls (aced the test, so that’s nice). Did lots more call analysis as I heard previous calls, made my own decisions, and then went over them with my trainer and classmate. I aced a test, but still need to ingrain a lot of this material into my mind so that it’s second nature. Fortunately, there’s a lot of overlap. If someone’s unconscious and not breathing, I should code it as a cardiac arrest, but if I tagged the same criteria on the pediatric, trauma, or other cards, the result is the same—we send a paramedic. The system recognizes that calls are not always cut and dry, but if someone’s physiologically unstable, we want to send the best help for them.

Had some interesting conversations with my trainer and our operations supervisor, both of whom had words of wisdom. Our supervisor isn’t above a little teasing, but warned me that when I’m working with trainers on the floor, some of them might not accept that sort of thing. Not because they don’t have a sense of humor, but because I haven’t earned my place yet.

I totally get that.

Veteran dispatchers can, when nothing is happening, watch the silent TVs we have on the walls, read books, or play with their phones.

Rookie dispatchers can’t even take their phones out if we’re not on break/lunch.

Again, I get that. We have more important things on our mind than Facebook. We should act like that.

Fortunately, the supervisor also said he sees that I’m very studious and serious, that I’m open to criticism and feedback, and says he expects me to do great at our agency. He knows I want this to be a career and considers it likely to work out that way.

But there are no givens. Put in my time in the trenches and I’ll be “one of us.”


I’m off for the next five days due to the vagaries of scheduling. When I go back, it should be for my final week of academy. After that, it’s on to call-receiver training (taking actual calls). I can’t wait!

Posted in Training

Medical Training

Been a fun week so far! We headed up to Shoreline to old station 61, which is SHFD’s headquarters and training center. Quite a few new telecommunicators there, including people from Valley Comm, NORCOM, and even Grays Harbor. A real mix, which is pretty cool. This was my first chance to meet people from other agencies. We’re all about the same place in our training, all pretty much hired in June, and all just about done with our academies.

Our medical training is not so much about treatment as it is about triage, sorting critical patients from non-critical cases and assigning the right resources to the call. While I have an advantage in terminology knowledge, I’m more more adept with dead bodies than live ones, so this was great for me. Taught by a senior dispatcher and Shoreline’s chief paramedic, we’ve gone over all kinds of topics—some review from our online courses, others an analysis of our dispatch criteria, plus lots of questions, anecdotes, and explanations.

Our awesome paramedic (rocking out 28+ years of experience) also arranged for a medic unit and an aid car to swing by and give us the grand tours.

This is a medic unit. Staffed by paramedics, this is a mobile intensive care unit.

While civilians often lump EMTs and paramedics into the same group, it’s not at all true. EMTs handle Basic Life Support. They’re basically masters of first aid and can handle the majority of medical calls in our dispatch area. Can’t really dole out medicine (that’s a paramedic thing), but they can get you patched up/splinted/stabilized and on the way to a hospital.

The interior of the medic unit. The aid car is basically a medical station wagon, while this is more like a mobile hospital room. Night and day differences in equipment and capability.

Paramedics on the other hand, go through two years of schooling and possess more skills, knowledge, and permission. They handle Advanced Life Support. They can administer drugs of all sorts, which gives them a lot more capability in the life saving game. They also do transport, but for more serious or less stable cases. There are far fewer medics than EMTs in any fire organization.

Every bit of space is used on aid cars and medic units. They flung open the doors and let us peek at all the cool gadgets and gear they kept locked away!

In my PSAP, we triage so we don’t send paramedics for Basic Life Support calls. EMTs can always request medics, but we don’t want to squander them.

It was really cool to sit and talk with the medics and EMTs. They took some time out of their busy days to help us get ready to work with them and I appreciated that. Never acted like any of our questions were dumb, always seemed delighted by our inquisitiveness, and helped make some of these things real for me, more tangible.

We still have another day of EMD training and a test tomorrow, but so far this has been a great opportunity!

Posted in Training

Six Weeks In

I haven’t really made any updates because training hasn’t changed all that much. I’m still in fire academy, learning geographical boundaries, commands, medic assignments, and things like that, but my trainer has been prepping me for call receiver training in the somewhat fuzzy future. We’ve been doing lots of mock calls, helping me lock down my call types and priorities, get me into the habit of using abbreviations and the police phonetic alphabet, and remember the things that must be done each and every time!

So far, I’m batting .285, but this week has been a big improvement and while I felt frustrated last week, I saw steady progress as we worked.

On the downside, the new trainer meant a new shift, 0100-1100, which is not awesome. On the other hand, my new trainer really knows her stuff and is awesome.

I’m taking the good with the bad.

I don’t know how long I’ll be in fire academy. I still need to take at least the criteria-based dispatch course before I can go on to call receiver training and from the rumbles I heard this week, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at least four weeks away. I’m not really complaining, though, because the time spent honing these fundamentals will pay off big time in the future. Particularly mastering addressing. That’s easily our number one data point. We can fudge a lot of other things, but we can’t do anything if we don’t know where you are. I spent many hours this week trying to locate addresses in our different CAD systems, learning to minimize my query to maximize success, and just how we get to someone somewhere on a freeway. It’s not easy and it’ll be my biggest challenge in call receiver training.

I’m still eager to get into it, though.

I’m also listening to live calls and practicing my note-taking skills, which has exposed me to a whole new level of life. The mental/emotional cases who rage at anything or sound completely calm and lucid as they talk about the aliens doing things to their property. I heard a man in pain after getting shot a whole bunch of times (I think he lived, though). I learned that a call for a chaplain was never a good sign and neither is calling off the CPR timer if we’re not immediately transporting a patient. I listened to a young man who’d eaten a THC edible terrified and uncertain if he was alive or not, vacillating between outrageous statements to simple questions.

They all called. Most of them lived. Our job is to help them all to the best of our ability. Looking at my colleagues, professionals all, I know I’m in the right place. Nobody slacks off.

Posted in Training

Halfway Through Training

Training continued this week for Rookie Dispatcher as he was forced to conquer the first of two vital tests. Failure would have meant ignominy and termination of employment, not to mention eternal self-loathing!

Fortunately, I scored a 98% and can breathe a little easier now, but that’s the end of police prep in my academy time. I’m already on to fire/EMS work, which is both simpler and more difficult.

My desk in training. While totally cooler than my desk at home, it pales in comparison to…

Fire/EMS is much less complex than police calls. We need to know where and what and then we’re either on to CPR or we’re getting down a little more information and telling you to call back if anything changes.

Seriously. Fire/EMS calls are typically the shortest. Part of this is because we focus on getting aid on the way as quickly as possible. That’s why our county has the highest cardiac survival rate in the world. But it’s also because there are limits to what we can do on the phone. Unless we’re walking you through CPR or childbirth, basically we get the medics or aid car on the way and go over the pre-arrival instructions. Then, boom—they’re there.

Two to three minutes of that will involve me on the phone with you and then you’re with shiny, happy people with snappy uniforms and very red vehicles.

Actual fire calls are pretty rare. Mostly alarm company calls or a complaint from a neighbor about smoke. So far, I haven’t even seen a fire call in my nights at work. Not in our service area anyway.

I’m still learning a ton and can’t wait to move on from call receiving to actual dispatching. Mostly because I want to ride this all night long:

Fully equipped with awesome. No assembly required.

At our agency, you’re taking calls or you’re dispatching (or you’re backup, in which case you’ll do a bit of both). I think it’s good that you can focus on one set of tasks for the night. My trainer informs me that normally people trade positions every four or five hours, but COVID-19 has put an end to that.

Oh, and I learned about stork pins. They’re like the CPR save coins I talked about previously, only they’re handed out if you manage an over-the-phone birth. Doesn’t count if the baby drops before they call you or if the aid crew gets there first, so my trainer says they’re much rarer, but highly sought after.

Great. So now I want a save coin, a stork pin, and to ride the dispatcher’s desk.

But first I have to get through fire academy.

Posted in Training

Training During COVID-19

This won’t possibly affect our lives…

Yesterday was the end of my first week. It was an odd week, to be sure, with two days studying at home as our agency didn’t feel it safe to come in with protesters, looters, police, and the National Guard all ready to mix it up. Then two days in the office where it seemed like nothing happened while simultaneously dumping a waterfall of information down my throat.

Odd, to say the least.

Plus, training during the time of COVID-19 means that a lot of the procedures are modified. For example, our agency normally does 12 weeks of “academy,” which is basically classroom learning coupled with one-on-one training. At the end of that, rookie dispatchers will have passed a couple of certifying tests and be released as call takers.

Except, right now, much of the training staff is working from home due to the coronavirus. Ditto for the admin staff. So, a lot of the normal on-boarding activities get skipped entirely and we got the bare minimum. Similarly, we got a lot of material to learn, but we’re pretty much expected to be self-studying ninjas. So, the last two days in the office were spent watching the live CAD systems and seeing what the calltakers were doing whilst getting new chapters for our binders and new drills to work on solo.

Even in training, however, there can only be so many people in the training room, so the other rookie and myself are often in there alone, unless another pair of dispatchers need the room to train, in which case we take our masked selves and either go out on the floor to observe call takers or we go to another place to sit down and study.

Our training coordinator told us that we weren’t going to get the regular experience. Not only are they in the midst of revamping the curriculum, but they can’t hold normal academy sessions. We can ask all the questions we want via email, but we need to adjust to seeking out information on our own rather than waiting for it to be delivered to us. Going to force us to take a more active part in our education.

That’s all great, but I personally like some structure when I learn. Self-guided studies can work fine within a narrow scope. Emergency telecommunications is an unbelievably broad scope, though.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I want. Public safety careers require you to go with the flow, no matter how awkward/difficult/uncomfortable it may be. I knew that coming into it, but I think acknowledging these feelings will help me as I move forward.

We’re also quite distant from each other in the office right now, too. Literally. Diving into 911 dispatching during the middle of a pandemic is quite the experience.

Masks are everywhere. Hand sanitizer bottles are on every flat surface like health potions in a game. Thermometer guns await you at every entrance. Trainees have to use the restrooms and kitchen on the other side of the building, regular staff can ONLY use the regular restrooms and kitchen.

I’m off for the next four and a half days as my new schedule has me working 2100-0700 starting Tuesday night. Happily, I will be paired up with a veteran trainer, who will work with me and help me get all of this stuff into my brain. Looking forward to working with her. All the staff I’ve talked to so far have been great about answering questions, even out on the call center floor. The culture seems pretty welcoming and supportive and I can’t help but think I really lucked out when my PD job froze up and I ended up here.