Blog > Careers

Police, Fire and Ambulance Dispatcher

Description

     A 911 Dispatcher (also known as an Emergency Dispatcher or Public Safety Dispatcher) answers calls and relays information to emergency personnel and other parties. 911 dispatchers take both emergency and non-emergency calls. They are responsible for collecting vital information, entering the information into specific databases, and reporting their findings to the proper authorities so the situation can be resolved in the most efficient way possible.

Qualifications/Skills

     The 911 dispatcher is the intermediary between callers and safety personnel. Information is relayed from the dispatcher to police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other public safety officials. Therefore, communication skills, and interpersonal skills, are an absolute must! Callers are seeking assistance for urgent matters and cannot afford to lose time due to misinterpretations or misunderstandings. Also, people who are calling 911 are generally experiencing an extremely stressful situation, which could cause them to be panicked and scared. A 911 dispatcher must be able to calmly, and clearly, ask questions that are crucial to the situation. Patience is key for success in this field. Some callers will have difficulty answering questions at first, or may ramble on, and will need questions and directions repeated to them.

     Quick judgement and the ability to act with limited information is essential. Recognizing where a person is located based on just a few descriptions allows emergency personnel to save time and get to the scene of an incident much sooner. Saving mere minutes, even seconds, could make the difference in a life or death situation.

     A decent typing speed of 30-35 words per minute is also required, as the dispatcher will be filling out information, such as addresses and other descriptions, that emergency personnel will need to know.          

     The ability to handle stressful situations while maintaining composure, and helping callers to do the same, is another skill that is critical to this profession. Dispatchers will face extreme levels of distress, but it is their job to remain calm and make sure callers are not panicking. Some calls may affect dispatchers personally, but it is important to remain professional at all times so the situation can be resolved. Dispatchers need to possess good decision making skills, which will allow them to think quickly and help callers more effectively. They also need to be good-tempered. Callers who are extremely stressed may say things that are counter-intuitive, or even offensive. It is important that dispatchers focus on getting the caller help, not on what was said.

     Multitasking is another skill that is necessary for this job. A dispatcher will be entering known information while asking questions to gather new information. On a typical work day, there will be multiple screens displaying all sorts of information that must be read while simultaneously taking calls. Sometimes, several calls will come in at the same time and a dispatcher will need to address them in order of urgency.

Training

     911 dispatchers receive about 3 months of training. Training consists of listening to other dispatchers take calls, and also listening to recorded calls. Trainees will learn what the other dispatchers did properly, and what they should have done or could have done better. Another aspect of training will be attending seminars to go over protocol for special circumstances. While working, dispatchers will learn the communication codes used by emergency professionals. For example, some codes signify that an arrest has been made while others mean everything is clear. New dispatchers will also have to become familiar with the software and databases used to process information. Although training will prepare new hires for what’s to come, some people say no amount of training is enough to handle some of the more extreme cases; like a young child reporting a death or a horrific accident.

Work Environment

     Pros: One of the benefits of this job is that you are responsible for helping countless people. You will help in the search of missing people and pets. You will help people when they need someone the most. You will assist police, firefighters, and other emergency professionals do their job efficiently. You will save lives. You are not a cog in the machine. The work you do has a positive impact on society. There are several shifts available, so if you are not a morning person, you have the option of workings afternoons and nights. Dispatchers do have down time, so you have the freedom to do things in between calls. Some people like to read, while others like to knit. You are generally allowed to do things as long as it doesn’t interfere with your job. This job is also located everywhere in the country so if you move you will be able to find a job.

     Cons: There are several realities of working as a dispatcher that are unpleasant. This is a very stressful job. People do not call 911 to share good news. Dispatchers may feel personally responsible for some calls. Even though a dispatcher has done everything right, they could feel bad, even guilty, if things do not turn out as expected. Police officers have the benefit of debriefing after a traumatic incident, sometimes mandatorily. Dispatchers are usually not given the same opportunity, lacking any kind of closure or mental recovery. Dispatchers have to deal with callers who call for nettlesome non-emergencies such as a neighbor leaving a light on that is “bothering” them, or who make several noise complaints that turn out to be nothing at all. Also, dispatchers tend to learn the personal issues of people in the town they are responsible for. Some people avoid working in the area they live in to prevent feeling intrusive, and out of fear of making things awkward in their personal lives. Working in your own town or city can also heighten stress and anxiety because the call could be from a number or address you recognize; maybe even that of a friend or relative.

            Dispatchers typically work long shifts (sometimes 12 hours) with a small group of people and eat lunch at their desks.

Salary

Total Employment: 95,450

Mean Annual Wage: $42,020

Median Annual Wage: $39,640

Top 5 Paying States

State

Employment

Annual mean wage

California

6,600

$61,620

DC

180

$61,500

Nevada

600

$58,190

Washington

1,690

$55,890

Oregon

950

$54,650

 

Top 5 States with Highest Employment

State

Employment

Annual mean wage

Texas

7,670

$38,380

California

6,600

$61,620

Florida

6,120

$40,630

New Jersey

4,140

$46,030

Ohio

4,070

$42,840

 Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)

Scoop:

     The NoDegree team thinks this a great career that performs an important role in society. As a dispatcher you can work knowing that you are making the world a better place. The pay is decent. The schedule will work for people while it may not be optimal for others. It can also be used as experience for other careers. If you want to make a difference in people’s lives then this is a great job for you to consider.

Helpful Links and References

Please note that affiliate links are below.

Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau - Amazon

If you are interested in this career it is highly recommended that you read this book. It gives a lot of in depth knowledge of the day to day of a 911 dispatcher. This book doesn't hold anything back. The good, the bad, the ups, the downs and everything in between is in this book.

Tell me Exactly What Happened: Dispatchers from 911 by Caroline Burau - Amazon

Another great book about Caroline Burau. A must read for anyone that is serious about becoming a 911 Dispatcher.

Mastering The Public Safety Dispatcher/911 Operator Exam: Targeted Test Prep to Jump-Start your Career - Amazon

This book is helpful in studying and reviewing for the 911 Dispatcher exam.