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The forgotten corner of the first responder universe

The role, though thankless, is endlessly important.


Dispatcher at work

Photo/Wikimedia Commons

By Uniform Stories

This is a guest post from dispatcher Jen Leininger. She is also an admin for the Nocturnal Dispatchers Facebook page

Reflecting upon the two recent line of duty deaths in our community has caused me to rethink my role as a dispatcher.

The stereotype for dispatchers is that they do not grieve. You see, we are mostly unseen, unheard and our feelings and emotions aren’t usually considered. But, of course, we do grieve and we do feel the weight of the calls in our forgotten corner of the first responder universe.

The effects of high priority incidents, incidents involving fatalities, and even trouble runs can cause us to feel helpless. Some of us even have nightmares and panic attacks related to the stress of the job. But it seems that no one realizes that some calls can affect the dispatcher.

We care about the safety of the field units, even though we don’t know them on a personal basis. We feel a responsibility to maintain their safety and well-being day in and day out on every shift. We are the lifeline to the public and field units, and the potential exists that we could be the one who sends the field units into their last call.

Every question, signal choice, or decision we make could make or break the call. Sometimes the personal responsibility we feel is overwhelming. For every one officer, ems personnel or firefighter, we feel the weight of at least five people depending on us. That list includes their spouse or significant other, their siblings, parents and children.

We find ourselves analyzing and reanalyzing every major incident in detail to ensure our actions were correct. If we made a mistake, how do we pursue a different course of action to affect an alternate outcome? Was the mistake a procedural issue from the field, from our department, or was it something that we did? Did we hinder the response or the outcome of the call? Did we make the right decision? The police officers, medics and firefighters whom we dispatch are like members of our extended family. Their well-being is a direct reflection of how well we do our job.

We have heard things that cannot be unheard. We have cried many tears walking out of work, wondering if we gave our best effort that night. We know that the what-if game is never ending. And we know that it is also completely unavoidable.

Dispatching can be a thankless job. It can be hard, and it’s not for everyone. But for those who have grown to love this job, we cannot see ourselves doing anything else.

To all of the responders out there, stay safe. We’re all in this together.

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.