6 easy ways to annoy an EMS dispatcher

A paramedic turned dispatcher tells the easy ways to get on the nerves of any dispatcher

By Sean Eddy

Despite popular belief, EMS dispatchers are actually capable of achieving human emotion. Well ... at least some of us are.

As easy as answering phones and telling the ambulances where to go seems, there is actually a lot more to our job. Deciphering information over the phone from a screaming drunk person with any sort of accuracy is hard enough. Try juggling that while keeping track of every on-duty crew, processing traffic given over the radio, dealing with angry police department dispatchers that want to know why the ambulance their officer requested 17 seconds ago hasn‘t arrived and listening to your supervisor complain that two of your calls last shift were out of compliance.

911 emergency dispatcher.
911 emergency dispatcher. (Photo Wikipedia)

Bottom line: Our job has its share of challenges. When you think you know what you‘re talking about when it comes to EMS dispatch, you probably don‘t. This is coming from a 10+ year field paramedic who spent the majority of his career doing exactly what this article talks about before “joining the dark side” and taking a part-time job dispatching.

Here are six easy ways to get on a dispatcher‘s nerves:

1. Ask that we have the ambulance crew “step it up”

I‘m just going to start this off by firing off a couple rounds at our fellow law enforcement dispatchers. We love y‘all to death, but for the love of God, stop doing this. Chances are, you didn‘t initially give us enough information to even consider sending our ambulance anything but Mach speed, therefore nothing you‘re going to say is going to make that ambulance travel any faster. Not to mention, we can see the eye-rolling through the phone when we ask your officers to expedite response.

2. Preface any radio traffic with “be advised”

This goes out to my field crews. We are well aware that the information you‘re giving us is actually information. Telling us to “be advised” doesn‘t suddenly activate our information receptors.

Not to mention, 90 percent of the time, you‘re making this statement to somehow make us look stupid. Yeah, we know the caller probably gave us inaccurate information and it pains us as much to say it as it does for you to hear it. And yes, as a field paramedic, I hate it when dispatchers use this phrase too. Let‘s just abolish it all together, OK?

3. Delay our questions with your own questions

Dear 911 callers: yes, we are here for you, but please ... help me, help you. When I have to spend 45 seconds explaining why I‘m needing you to confirm your phone number and address, all you have do is hold me hostage in case-entry and prevented me from getting anywhere near a point where I can dispatch an ambulance. Just answer the questions in order in which they are asked. Trust me, you aren‘t going to be the first one to question the necessity of the questions being asked, and you most certainly won‘t be the first person to be dead wrong about said necessity.

4. Get irritated with us when we don‘t immediately come back with the information you requested

Field crews, let‘s be real for a second here. Do you really think we make it a practice to ask every caller detailed descriptions of the house? A long time ago, someone invented this pretty neat thing called block numbers. Granted, many people aren‘t smart enough to keep them properly displayed, so I get your frustration. But please consider this: I‘m dealing with someone that is already mad at me for asking for their phone number, not to mention the fact that I‘m on chapter five of the seizure card questions and they‘re about ready to choke me to death. I don‘t have a problem trying to figure out what color mailbox the patient has, but don‘t get mad at me when I don‘t get back to you right away. 

5. Ask if an ambulance is responding

how to annoy ems dispatchers, faster ambulance

I‘m talking to you, first responders. Yeah, I know it‘s frustrating when the ambulance has a response delay. Trust me, I didn‘t forget to send the one piece of equipment that makes transporting the patient (legally) to the hospital possible. If you want to ask for an ETA, be my guest .. .on second thought, don‘t do that either. Just ask where they‘re responding from. Asking for an ETA will get you the customary “five minutes” answer that the ER nurses taking radio reports have learned to dismiss.

6. Point out the obvious

I‘m going back to the field crews here. This is almost always prefaced with the “be advised” phrase we mentioned earlier, and it‘s usually a passive-aggressive way to point out that you don‘t think you should be running the call. Repeating your location with an angry tone isn‘t going to get you out of the call. I didn‘t just arbitrarily pick you to respond. Sure, I make mistakes and skip a unit from time to time, but chances are, you missed the part where I sent the ambulance you thought was closer while you were bitching about the last transfer I sent you on. There‘s usually more going on than what you hear on the radio. If we‘re making an obvious mistake, there‘s ways to let us know without making yourself sound like a tool over the radio. And yes, I‘m well aware that dispatchers are just as guilty of this and I bitch about it just as much when I‘m sitting in the front seat of the ambulance. Let‘s just all work under the assumption that we all have our jobs handled. We can let the jerk supervisors deal with the mistakes.

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