More Than Just a “Paycheck Job”

Samantha Wagner, CALEA Accreditation Manager- Communications, Fort Smith Police Department

In May of 2012, I started my career as a 911 Telecommunicator. When I walked into the police department on the morning of May 1st, I never knew how my life was going to change. I dispatched for about a year full time and then accepted my position as the CALEA Accreditation Manager for Communications in August of 2013. I often sit in dispatch as relief for the other dispatchers and it still has my heart. It has always fascinated me how much of an adrenaline rush you can get by just hearing something on a phone call. I will never stop trying to explain that to people and for people that think that we are “just secretaries”, I dare them to sit in our chairs for a day. I can almost assure they will not have that thought process anymore. I have heard numerous officers and fire fighters tell me that “they could never do this job or I don’t know how you all keep up with everything”. It’s amusing to see them think they can handle it before they even try the job.

Dispatching is more than just a “paycheck job”. Sometimes you literally have someone’s life in your hands. Suicide callers are the worst and we just went through what I call “suicide season”. Suicides can occur anytime of the year, of course but during the holidays, it seems that emotions can run high and I feel like that is when they most occur. Officers: Keeping up with officers is a crucial part of the job. I have heard officers complain about dispatchers and I have also heard dispatchers complain about officers. I think that it’s a mutual reaction but deep down inside, we both know the seriousness of the job on both sides. If someone is just here for a paycheck, they definitely are in the wrong business.

Although there are countless stories of calls that I have taken and stories that other dispatchers have told me, there is one story that sticks out in my mind and it occurred on Valentine’s Day 2013. I was working night shift and a call came in and the man said “I would like to report a shooting.” I immediately froze for .8 seconds and I could not do anything. I could not breath, I could not move…It was like I was paralyzed and then all of a sudden, I snapped out of it. It was like my brain started shooting of fireworks asking questions. Who? What? When? Where? Weapon… Where is it?! I was telling my partner to call EMS and dispatch fire that there was someone that was dead. The man that called in was the female who got shot’s new boyfriend. I got all of the details and then realized the shooter was the lady’s nephew and they had been romantically involved for some time. The nephew was high on meth and was upset that she had a new boyfriend. I worked and worked and wanted my officers to find the suspect. Right before I left my shift, they keyed up and let us know that they found him. That is when it hit home for me. Real life and death situations, talking to people who are generally having the worst days of their lives, and trying to cope with the feeling of never having closure were all things that I have realized.

Through all of the bad times though, there is still nothing like working as a team to provide services for the community. In all reality, we ALL have the same goal and that is to serve and protect. Even if we are sitting in a room, with no windows, and a constant buzz! It is all worth it in the end to try and help keep our cities safe!