BOUND TO HAPPEN

By Daphanie Bailes

It is bound to happen, over a lengthy career, that a dispatcher will be working when a loved one or friend has to make THAT call.

It was my Monday on a Tuesday—short shift of the week, 2300–0700. I asked my boyfriend to drop me off so we could have breakfast in the morning. 

My only concern when I scanned my badge at the door was if someone had made coffee. I went to the break room, poured the blackest coffee I had ever seen, and proceeded to transform it into something drinkable. Log in; adjust the console. OK, I’m on radio today. Sift through all the emails from the past few days.

“Fire rescue, what’s the address of your emergency?” How many times have I heard that, said that?

I see the call in pending: cardiac arrest, possible drug OD, 27-year-old female, CPR in progress, last seen 30 minutes ago, caller is the boyfriend performing CPR. Same age as my sister—what a shame.

I dispatch the units and an unexplainable feeling surrounds me, like I’m underwater but not fighting to get to the surface. Why does that phone number look familiar? What is the name of the caller? Why doesn’t that calltaker ever get the name of the callers?!

“What is the name of the caller?” After the third attempt, she answers, “Jason.” 

I look over at my other co-worker and say, “Call the chief; I have to leave. That’s my sister’s boyfriend.”

I walk out of the comm. center and have a 30-second meltdown before re-entering. “Please call Daniel and see if he can relieve me.” He lives right around the corner; hopefully he can get here.

The units arrive on scene. That feeling I had is replaced with a kind of numbness—numbness mixed with despair, wishing I could do more but knowing that I can’t, knowing I can’t do anything but wait for that next transmission …  “Priority 1” (Asystole) ALS protocol in progress. I need to go!

My work relief and my boyfriend arrive almost simultaneously. We get to the address within minutes, in time to see the crew wheeling her out—gray, lifeless, the medic riding the rail, pumping chest.

“Show code”

I look down at my 3-year-old nephew. They were performing for him, even though they knew he didn’t understand. I found out later they were doing it for me, also.

The chief knew and the chaplain knew.

So why wasn’t there a debriefing? Why didn’t the Critical Incident Management team get activated? Not for me. I handled things with my family and took a week off. But what about my co-workers? Sometimes, we spend more time with our co-workers than our own families. On-duty, family-related calls can affect an entire comm. center. As the supervisor, I should have thought about that. But I didn’t, and no one else did either. 

Chiefs, supervisors: Take care of your people, ALL of your people. Dispatchers will be the last ones to actually ASK for help. Try talking to them individually and then as a group. There is a gigantic stigma that telecommunicators don’t experience things like the field units do. That is true. Unlike a field unit in the same situation, dispatchers are plagued by their imagination of what they think is happening rather than actually being able to touch, feel, and see … and the damage is just as real.

Note: Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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