The Dispatcher’s Burden

Zach Girad, Disptacher II, Iowa State University Police

I started my career as a 911 dispatcher my freshman year of college in 2010. At the time it was just a way for me to make a living but turned into more than I could imagine. It was a smaller campus than most due to the fact that it is a divisional II school but still had a diverse atmosphere. After a year of working for the college I was given the chance to apply at the Nodaway County Sheriff’s office for the position of dispatcher/jailer. This was definitely a humbling experience as I went from dispatching a campus of 7,000 student to an entire county of over 30,000 people in a communication center of one dispatcher for the county.

The training process was kind of a trial by fire situation where you learned things as they occurred with another dispatcher shadowing your calls; after it seemed you were able to handle them without assistance you were on your own. As many of us know there is never an efficient amount of training nor a perfect training module that can prepare you for the situations the public can put you in. Almost daily I would get a call that a person just couldn’t even make up. Ranging from a sanitation worker who discovered the body of a suspect in a domestic case from the night before who ran away when the police arrived on scene, and climbed in a dumpster to hide from the cops and passed out with his bottle of vodka and froze to death over night. To the medical call where a 101 year old hunter who decided he would try duck hunting for the first time accidentally shot his foot off in the middle of no where and needed to be life flighted to the the closest hospital almost 45 miles away. The one thing that every call you take has in common is the level of responsibility that your job places in you. If you work in fast food and you mess up someone’s order it’s not a big deal, remake the meal, however in this line, when you mess up lives are at stake. It could be compared to the responsibility that a law enforcement officer, doctor, or paramedic. You have a short amount of time to chose the right method the first time otherwise it could result in a consequence that you simply can’t take back.

Along with the level of responsibility, there is the stress that comes with dealing with people who call you when they are having the worst day of their lives. You sort of expect that there are going to be days where it’s going to be tough and you’d like to forget about them, but nothing can prepare you reactions that you will get during this time. Things I will never forget during my time as a dispatcher, hearing a physical domestic and telling the victim not to hang up while she is being attacked until officers respond, or the sound of a individual who just committed murder and trying to instruct them on how to give CPR as you can hear the air they are pumping is go through the gunshot wound. The list goes on and on and although it is a dark day and hard to process it’s still something that you can’t just ignore, you have to hear these things and continue assisting people with the same level of professionalism as if you would be helping the old lady whose cat is stuck in the tree.

Not all things are bad though, despite the high turnover rate, the dispatchers who continue to do this work can see the the benefits of being a dispatcher first hand. It doesn’t come in the form of monetary payment, or public recognition but it’s the feeling you get when your able to take a call, handle it the best way you can and get that positive outcome in the end. The feeling of knowing that you played an intricate role in solving that problem. Knowing that you provided the assistance needed to save a life or being that reassuring voice over the phone that gets people through what they are going through, provides the best kind of reward. It’s that feeling the overpowers all of the negative. It almost becomes addicting in a way because you strive to be the best at the position your in so when you get the chance to prove that it simply can’t be beat.

The was titled the dispatcher’s burden and I know that it sounds negative but truth be told this is a negative job. I say that with the understanding that almost 99 percent of your calls will start out negative. There just isn’t any other way to describe it. It’s up to the dispatcher to turn it into a positive experience. You do that by going into every situation with the idea that you have to dictate how this is going to affect you and how you’re going to affect it.