Q&A with Sara Wright
Describe your emergency dispatch experience.
I was hired as a dispatcher at the age of 18 in 1995. Working in 911 is what I’ve done for more than half of my life now. It is a part of me as I know it is a part of so many other people and it took me a long time after I started to realize that it couldn’t be the only part of me. There have been some calls that have stuck with me over the years. Even though I didn’t see what happened, didn’t see the bodies or the damage or the heartbreak the way field responders do, I still play back those calls in my head sometimes and think about whether I could have done anything differently and whether it would have made a difference if I had. I have more good memories than bad—and most of that is a result of the people with whom I have worked with over the years. I’m proud of what I’ve done and what I’ve seen and heard done by good people during my time working in 911.
Tell us about one of your best calls.
On Mother’s Day 2001, I answered a 911 call from a man whose wife was in labor with their second child at home. He was anxious and excited and kept telling his wife not to push. Using the MPDS® cardset, I worked through childbirth PAIs and the head had delivered by the time the first responders arrived in advance of the ambulance. As I was getting off 911 with the dad, one of my partners was in happy excited tears on the phone with a news station that had just called and telling them how her pregnant partner had just helped someone with childbirth on Mother’s Day of all days. They ended up coming out and doing a story that aired on the evening news. I got to meet the family at the hospital. My son Reece was born a week or so later.
Give us some background about your blog (what prompted the blog)?
I found the Humans of New York page on Facebook a few years back and really enjoyed seeing the photos of people, some of whom share very personal pieces of their lives. I know that everyone has a story. I want to be able to share dispatcher stories with people. One of the common refrains in the 911 world is that dispatchers are the unseen first responders. I remember an address that Dr. Racht gave at NAVIGATOR in 2005—that dispatchers can shift someone’s entire perception of the EMS system or the criminal justice system. I hadn’t heard or thought of that in those words before but I, and the entire audience, immediately recognized it as true. Often in 911, the public only hears about us if we’ve screwed up. I want to allow others to see the real people on the other end of the phone when they call 911 and to know the kind of things dispatchers hear, do, and feel.
What have you learned from the project?
There is variation, but it all runs along a common theme. Everyone has personnel issues, boss issues, and work/life balance issues. Everyone has taken bad calls and has had negative life experiences or made a bad decision here and there. But, everyone keeps working, keeps trying, keeps going. We’re all dealing with our own struggles, and we all keep working to find beauty in the world around us. On a personal level, I am learning every time I meet with someone. The people who’ve talked with me and let me photograph them and write out their stories have shared very personal parts of themselves with me and with the people who read the posts. There is beauty in that kind of vulnerability and transparency, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to do something like this.
Visit facebook.com/dispatcherstories to check out Sara’s My Dispatcher Stories project page.