Reflections on National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week (part 3)

National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week (April 8 – 14, 2018) is the week set aside to recognize the extraordinary work and efforts of our nation's emergency call takers and dispatchers, the true first responders and unsung heroes of 9-1-1. This Year, in honor of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, I asked 9-1-1 professionals across North America to tell me why it's important to recognize 9-1-1 Telecommunicators and how their centers are marking the occasion this year. Here are some of their reflections:

Denise Anne Walsh (QA & Accreditation Manager), Metropolitan Nashville Department of Emergency Communications

"I could go on and on about why it's important to recognize public safety telecommunicators. I have been in this line of work since 1983 (and starting my 32nd year with Nashville). I have worked in almost all areas but mostly in operations during my career. The increase over the years in what is expected of the telecommunicators is incredible and it definitely takes an exceptional person to be successful in this career.  In addition to the responsibilities, the expectations on them from the callers to their chain of command and from the field personnel is extremely high. They are the true first contact when someone is dealing with a terrible situation. They have to ask the proper questions and make sure to get accurate information from people who are often very excited or distraught in order to send them the help they need and possibly provide pre-arrival information that could potentially save a life. If someone doesn't feel the call taker did everything right or sounded caring enough, they will call us later to complain, but not many people call to recognize that the call taker was there for them in their time of need. It doesn't matter what the call taker is dealing with personally, they have to be everyone else's rock. And they are humans. But when they make a human mistake, they could end up in the news and/or in court. They work all hours, all days (including holidays), and during all weather – they are expected to be here."

"Then, there's the other side of their job: dispatching. They have to know all the policies and procedures that pertain to the dispatching side of things, be able to multi-task and keep up with way too many units at a time, and be prepared to react if an officer gets in pursuit or if field personnel are injured. They have to do this all professionally regardless if the responder who is injured (or even killed) is a friend. And because we are not classified as 'public safety,' we don't get the benefits of other first responders. Regardless (or maybe despite) the pay, benefits, hours, expectations, responsibilities, and pressure – they come to work and provide the best service they can to those needing our service with very little acknowledgement or recognition. It would be amazing and awesome if they were recognized for what they do on a daily basis – or even a monthly basis – but once a year is definitely better than never!"

"To celebrate National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, we'll be doing a slideshow and hosting an awards ceremony. Our slideshow will include not just the winners from 2017 but also the nominees, others who may have been overlooked, previous telecommunicators who helped shape our agency, and the family members who support our employees. Winners will be called to the stage for their awards, in addition to quarterly winners, monthly winners, and the employee of the year award winner (voted on by the managers from the employees of the month)." 

"We'll also be giving out a 'Paul Taylor' award. Paul was an employee who died in a car accident in late 2016 and we had that award for the first time last year.  He had all the qualities that any person would want as an employee, coworker, friend, and a family member and the employees get to vote for the employee who they feel best represents him. His wife comes to our banquet now too."

Christina "Tina" Schade, Public Safety Telecommunicator, St. Petersburg Police Department

"It is so important to recognize telecommunicators for so many reasons! We are the unsung heroes, the first voice in the midst of chaos and the person who has to keep everything under control. When there is a big call that makes the news, especially the good ones, they usually only praise the officers. People tend to forget that if it wasn't for the person who answered the 9-1-1 call the story might not have ended the way it had. We deal with a huge amount of stress. We rarely get closure on the calls we take. We get ordered to cover shifts because we cannot work shorthanded, and sometimes we just get forgotten about. I have been in this field for 20 years and only in the last few have I felt like we are finally being recognized, that the spotlight is on us and all the good we do. The officers always get praised for their involvement in the community but we are also involved in the community, just from the inside. Not every call is an emergency; sometimes it's a citizen who just needs some help, some resources, someone to listen. Sometimes we can make a great impact from the inside but you never hear about it. I wish I could meet some of the community that I serve, just like the officers do."

"My department celebrates National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week every year. We try to make it fun. We have theme days all week. We'll have superhero day where we dress up like superheroes. We have sports day where we dress in jerseys of our favorite teams. We vote on a t-shirt design, have it made and on one day we all wear the winning shirt. We even do a fun scavenger hunt around the station (during breaks of course), and other games with prizes. We invite officers to come up and say 'hello,' to come meet the voice on the radio. Each shift has a special meal planned and we celebrate. We celebrate us!"

Elvita Lewandowski, Supervisor, Ottawa County Central Dispatch Authority, West Olive, Michigan

"I feel it is important to recognize telecommunicators because it is a job/position that tends to be forgotten. We are the first "first responders." We start the process to get help to someone in need. Many times the telecommunicator does not know the outcome of a situation and that can wear on someone. The job is not always easy. Showing recognition ensures that telecommunicators know how much they are appreciated."

"Our center is doing a themed week to recognize our telecommunicators. We will be doing a Hawaiian/luau theme. Each shift will have a meal prepared for them. We encourage the staff to wear Hawaiian shirts one of the days and have a few games/activities such as dispatcher bingo they can participate in if they would like."

Want to learn more?

I hope you enjoyed these reflections on National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week from representatives of agencies across North America. Please visit the National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (NPSTW) website to see how various agencies across the country are taking the opportunity to recognize their 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers.

Another great way to recognize your agency's 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers is to nominate them for a PSAPs' Finest Award. You can read more about the PSAPs' Finest Award Program on the NICE website.

Read previous reflections
Reflections on National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week (part 1)
Reflections on National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week (part 2)

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