As a former dispatcher, I spend a lot of time combing the internet and scrolling through various 911 dispatcher support groups. Over the years, I’ve seen the same post, in various forms, pop up time and time again:
“I got hired about a month ago and have been trained on call-taking everyday since (I’ve been answering 911 calls with a trainer beside me). I’m excited every day to go into work and eager to learn, but I have SO much to learn and it is so overwhelming at times. Any advice for this new Dispatcher on how you got yourself through the stress of training and learning everything so quickly?”
These are the same feelings that hit me when I first started in 911. Back then, my only resource for help was the senior dispatchers in my center. Now, young dispatchers can reach out and get answers from peers easier than ever before. New dispatchers shouldn’t have to plead for the help or tips, It should be right at their fingertips!
Before I launch into practical tips, it’s important to note: we in dispatch are one giant family. Sure, we can be a little rough around the edges but what family isn’t? If you treat your family right, give others respect, and earn their trust, they will watch over you and protect you. Now, onto the good stuff...
It’s your first day, you might be a little nervous, scared, anxious, apprehensive, or all of the above. That’s normal. You’re adjusting to seeing the world from behind the desk. This is not a job you learn in a day, a week, or even a month. Every day, every call has something new to teach us as we help the public. Here are five tips for getting started:
1. Keep an open mind
Even as I approached 20 years on the job, I was constantly learning something new. Sometimes it’s better way to approach and handle a specific type of call and sometimes it’s just software upgrades. If you hear someone say they’ve already learned everything, they’re about to learn that they haven’t. An open mind is a mind that will improve.
2. Don’t quit, keep going!
No matter what: keep going. Fight the urge to belittle yourself for mistakes and remember that it’s a process. We are often our own harshest critic but we need to make sure, in turn, that we are also the person who is nicest to ourselves.
Action item: Everyday, write down three mistakes you made and three good things you did.
Surely, if you can see all of the little mistakes you made, you can find three things you did right. Here’s a freebie to start your first list: showed up to work on time. Boom, you’re on your way, killing it!
3. Take advantage of your resources
Use your resources to take care of yourself. Ultimately, no tips or tricks matter if you don't take care of yourself mentally.
For far too many years, many dispatchers ignored warning signs about their mental health. As a result, it wasn’t openly talked about or discussed until very recently. Despite significant progress, we have to slowly chip away at layer upon layer of ignored trauma because we didn’t know how to handle it from the start. Don’t just learn from your own mistakes - learn from our’s too!
Action item: A lot of insurance companies have started to offer some sort of Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If that includes yours, use it!
4. Remember who you are - and that your job doesn’t define you
As a dispatcher, you will be pushed, pulled, and prodded as you are shown a hundred different ways to do things. It is important to sift through all of those methods and find out what works best for who you are. If you are not comfortable in your processes, how can you possibly help anyone else?
Don’t change who you are unless it’s to better yourself!
5. Ask a question, then another question....and then ask some more questions!
Clearly you have already asked a question if you are reading this, which is good. The age-old saying goes, “the only stupid question is the one not asked.”
How are you supposed to learn if you don’t ask questions? Whether you’re asking for clarification on something already covered or questioning why something is done the way it is: your question is important.
Understanding why a policy is in place helps to explain why you should be doing something a certain way. Most trainers welcome questions with open arms because it shows that a person is actually invested in learning, interacting, and absorbing the knowledge they are providing.
The one thing you should never do is act like you already know it all. Make sure you come in with an open mind and lots of respect for experienced dispatchers - they’ll bring you a long way.
Once you settle into your new career, you may become extremely proud and protective of what you do and who you do it with. That's natural - remember: we are one big family!
Between the thin blue line and the thin red line lies the thinnest line. The gold line represents those that are rarely seen but mostly heard. The calm voice in the dark night: dispatchers, the golden glue that holds it all together!