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I’ve done this for a minute or two. Rarely can I say “Well… That’s a new one,” and just when you think you’ve heard it all, life surprises you.
I did it TWICE yesterday. TWO TIMES. I pulled a dispatch hat trick.
Let me explain…
Yesterday started off as an abnormally quiet day for dispatch. Until a co-worker took a call that initially came in as a seizure, where a competing athlete collapsed while participating in a triathlon. No big deal. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. However, our 911 lines started lighting up. Again, we were receiving calls from other spectators at the triathlon. Obviously, something else was now happening. Callers started telling us they thought the seizure patient was now having a heart attack.
Long story short; they were. A deputy was sent, shocks were administered, dead patient was saved, patient refused medical aid once conscious unless they finished the race. The in fact DID finish the race and still refused medical. The deputies had to force the patient to go to the hospital.
Whilst on that call, my radio channel had a fresh hot call for shots fired. Turns out someone shot another person in the ass because they were going to try to walk into the road. Obviously, they thought they were helping. I’m not quite sure how that thought process happened, but it did and someone ended up with two extra holes in their butt.
I’ve never had two calls like that back to back. None of us in the room had ever had two calls like that back to back. Without a doubt, we were all amused and stressed out when it was all said and done.
Cocktails and some CBD oil were had after shift, obviously.
Before I sign out on this one and put it away, can I ask you for favors? Please share this blog post with others on your favorite social media platform. Also, in the comments down below, tell me your crazy dispatch stories about “Just when you think you’ve heard it all”!
Today was a Monday. Perhaps the most Monday-ist Monday I’ve had in quite some time. My radio at work entailed working a main channel. Which is not a big deal! I can rock a radio out. I’d dare say that I’m actually pretty darn good at it! However, today… Today was… Different. Today took it out of me.
My morning started off normal-ish. Traffic stops, units marking on and off duty, the regular calls, and then an unknown accident. With 3 cars. And a smoking vehicle.
I had just walked back into dispatch from a bathroom break when the shit hit the proverbial fan. I quickly threw the headset on and picked up a 9-1-1 call. The caller was involved in the accident that everybody else in the room just briefed me about. The caller told me they thought whoever was in the car across from them was dead. Through sobbing I collected details and notified the appropriate units.
One by one they start making the scene. And there it is, “Central, we have a confirmed fatality.” That sentence immediately gives you a sinking feeling.
My road guys start running license plates and notify me not to give the information back over the air about the owners. This is usually typical when there is a fatality involved. However, upon running plates, I’m able to see the people behind these vehicles they’re running.
A Face To Go With A Name Is A Good Thing
I’m able to put a face to a name. Something that we often don’t get in dispatch. Closure isn’t something we’re familiar with. We often get left in the dark as far as outcomes go. Upon seeing the information included in the license plate returns, the mood in the room changes. We all realize that someone’s family has just changed and that life is fleeting. We take a second, talk about it, and then start working again.
From there on out, the day is pretty much screwed. You do your best and trudge through the rest of it like a boss. You drive home in silence, let the dogs out, and then sit in a quiet house reflecting on the day. When your husband calls you and asks if he can take you for a bike ride and some ice cream because he knows what kind of day you had, you take him up on that offer. Because somedays you just need ice cream.
You guys know the drill. You go to work, exist on a roller coaster of adrenaline dumps and returns to normalcy. Your workday is anything BUT normal. It’s chaotic. It’s noisy. It’s sad. It’s happy. It’s everything in between. You get where I’m going with this, right? It can get OLD. And fast. They say most dispatchers, or any first responder for that matter, go through their first “burnout” phase between 3-5 years into the job. It’s almost to the point where if you DON’T feel the “burnout” I’ll look at you like a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest. There isn’t one first responder that I know who hasn’t gone through at least one round of burnout. Most I know have gone through many. I’m in my 18th year of first responder bliss. I know I’ve gone through the burnout several times. And I keep coming back. It’s something ingrained in us. Something that makes us keep taking the emotional beatings over and over again. It’s who we are as people. Our jobs aren’t easy! Not to say that we’re superhuman (I meaaaan some of us probably are, let’s be honest) we see the worst society has to offer and we still do what we do! Day in and day out.
While there are varying degrees of burnout, mine have always teetered on the “I F***ING HATE THIS JOB AND THE BS THAT COMES WITH IT” spectrum. I tend to get angry for several weeks and then chill out for a bit. Realizing that my job isn’t the worst thing in the world and because I’m actually pretty good at what I do, quitting probably wouldn’t do anybody any favors. When I think about qualified employees quitting because of animosities or because the burnout is real, I cringe. I think of all of the men and women working the streets. The firefighters, the police officers, the medics, who all rely on qualified dispatchers. You guys, we literally ARE the lifeline for our first responders! Don’t take it lightly. My husband’s out there. My brother in law is out there. Friends, family, are out there. You get the idea! These are the people that would suffer if qualified employees left. Susan sitting on her couch at home with a heart condition would suffer. Joe on the corner whose house is on fire would suffer.
There are ways to lessen the effects of burnout! Follow me, here!
1:) Take your stinkin’ vacation time! E.S.C.A.P.E. your environment for a few days! Regardless of what you think, and how highly you may think of yourself, your office CAN and WILL survive if you take a week/month/3 months off. Keep following the blog, and I’ll have some travel tips!
2:) SHUT YO PHONE OFF when you get home! No, really! Unless you’re really important and can’t be missed, turn it off. I signed up for Ooma for this specific reason. Nobody does landlines anymore. Everything and EVERYONE is right in the palm of your hands when you have a smartphone. I get home from work, plug my phone in, and grab the landline phone. People who are important have the number and know they can call that if they need me. I can’t stress how much of a difference this has made!
3:) Find a hobby. A real one. Get creative! Write, paint, draw, or if you’re like me, make some stuff with your hands! In my spare time, I’m kind of a Cricut expert. I make all kinds of t-shirts, tumblers, signs, wall decals, etc. I HAVE to do something in my off time to keep busy and keep me relaxed. Making stuff is my jam!
4:) Layoff the caffeine. I know, easier said than done for some. Your Starbucks baristas may miss you for a while, but it really is for the greater good!
5:) Sleep. Lots. My nightly average of sleep is around 4-5 hours. I KNOW I don’t sleep enough. When I know I don’t sleep enough, I stress a little more than usual. Luckily, my husband also works day shift and goes in relatively early some days. Any more if we’re not in bed by 9, there must be something seriously wrong going on. Shut your alarm clocks off on your days off! Catch a little extra sleep. Being a little lazy isn’t going to kill you!
6:) Set aside some time JUST for you. Not you and your kids. Not you and your husband, Not you and your wife. JUST YOU. You need time to decompress after your shift. Jam out to your favorite music or maybe sit in silence and meditate. Whatever it is that relaxes YOU, DO IT!
7:) Acknowledge that you need help! You can’t do everything on your own! Though you’re programmed to take care of things, sometimes getting an extra hand from someone can make a world of difference. There is ABSOLUTELY nothing to be ashamed of! For real! Rome wasn’t built in a day and it sure as HELL wasn’t built by one person! Your empire will take several sets of hands to make it into the kingdom it’s meant to be!
Seriously, you have to realize that the only person that can take care of you is YOU. Nobody else. Not your mom. Not your dad. Not your husband. Not your wife. NOBODY BUT YOU. You have to advocate for your own mental stability. Take breaks when you need them. Say, “No” when things are rough. Ask for help! With a little bit of vigilance, you can get past your burnout phases! You’re good at what you do! The world needs people like you! Don’t let a few bad days ruin your future in a career that you excel in! If you start feeling smothered, take a step back, take a big breath, evaluate things and move forward. Figure out where you can cut corners and go from there! None of us are machines! Let me repeat that, NONE OF US ARE MACHINES! Let yourself feel emotions. Cry it out! Do whatever it takes to come back stronger than before! And as always, if you ever need an impartial ear to bend, I’m your person! Send me comments or emails!
NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING strikes more anger at the heart and soul of a dispatcher than that phrase. We’re there. Every call. Before our police friends, fire friends, or paramedics make scene. We’re there when the situation is chaotic. We hear the screams for help from the mother after she found her 2 month old blue and unresponsive in bed. We hear the pleas from a husband of 50 years for his wife to start breathing. We hear as that same husband apologizes profusely to his beautiful bride for everything he’s ever done that maybe wasn’t right by her. We hear him say he hasn’t had enough time with her yet through sobs and attempts at CPR compressions. We hear those agonal breaths and we know that at that point unless a miracle walks through that door fast with an AED and whole lotta support from the great God above, we’re just there on that phone for moral support. We talk suicidal people off of their ledge. We make friends in those brief, but intense phone calls. We listen intently hoping to hear any kind of clue through screams of horror as a mad gunman breaks into a house and starts popping off rounds. We hear the shots being fired at our officers right before they pay the ultimate price. We aren’t secretaries. We aren’t JUST DISPATCHERS. We have the PTSD scars to prove it. Each one of us has calls that we carry with us. The sounds of our worst calls forever burned to memory. Some nights I dream of calls I’ve taken like I’m sure many others like me do. We may not be on the scene, but we’re there. 24/7/365. To those of you walking the gold line and sitting in that hot seat on a daily basis. Keep rocking it out. Someday you’ll be recognized as more than a clerical position and maybe your pay will start to reflect that! Like one of my favorite podcasts says #IAM911. Wear the badge proudly.