By Daphanie Bailes
Editor’s Note: Daphanie wrote her column in response to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) refusal to reclassify public safety communicators into the protective service, the same classification as police officers and firefighters. The current classification of 911 professionals under Standard Occupational Classification is under a category of Office and Administrative Support Occupations.
I’m not a first responder—that’s what lots of people say. How can you be a first responder? You just sit in a room. I would like to invite those who think that to step into my world. The world of the faceless, the nameless. The world where I am only known by the sound of my voice. A voice that can portray everything from love to loathing. A voice that can give me away if I dwell on the fight at home, the fourth nastygram email of the day, or the last bad 911 call. A world where I juggle the feelings associated with multiple calls, all at once. A world where I rarely hear “thank you” or “I want to do that when I grow up.” My world encompasses so much more than those four walls or my voice. It is the voice of every caller or administrator on the phone, every firefighter and paramedic or EMT on the radio. It also includes the voices that don’t go away when I hang up the phone, or walk out the door, or try to close my eyes.
I know I wasn’t the first person to put my boots on the ground, but my voice was the first you heard. I broke through language barriers to keep you safe. I instructed your loved one to give you lifesaving breaths until help could arrive. I told you to hide and kept you calm while evil walked past your closet door. I heard your wife’s screams when she realized you were beyond help. I talked to you and distracted you long enough for help to get there and take the gun from your hand. I used every resource available so we could find you when you rolled your car off the highway. I was with you when you took your last breaths. I felt your frustration and fear when the water was just too rough for you to help her. I reassured you when you begged for the minutes to disappear and for the ambulance to arrive. I shouldered your obscenities and continued to be your calming influence when you found your overdosed son. I prayed that you were at peace after you finally stopped the voices in your head. I told you to sing to your sweetheart, to calm him, to drown out the rest of the noise while we waited for EMS and fire to find your mangled truck. I was the first to hear your tiny but strong cries after you made your grand entrance into this world and silently cried tears of joy with your family.
I prayed when I heard your “Mayday” call. I prayed because you are my brother or sister, and when you hurt, I hurt. I train and learn every day, beyond what is required, because I am the one and only person who is not allowed to be caught off guard and not know what to do. So many lives desperately depend on me to know what to do or whom to call and to make it happen in the blink of an eye.
In a way, the OMB is correct. I’m not a first responder by the purest definition. I am a highly trained public safety telecommunicator. I am THE FIRST, FIRST RESPONDER. I am the first to respond to that emergency with lifesaving instructions. I am the first to alert law enforcement, fire, and medical personnel to the cries for help. I am the first to hear and feel heartache and joy from people I will never know. I am the first to comfort those souls in need. And I will be the first to invite you into these four walls to experience my world. Not because I want a pat on the back or to have grandiose feelings of superiority, but because I want you to understand it. #IAM911
Daphanie has been a dispatcher with Martin County Fire Rescue in Stuart, Florida, USA, since 2005, where she is currently the Training Coordinator. She is a licensed Emergency Medical Technician and has a bachelor’s degree in public safety. She is passionate about the mental well-being of her dispatch family, including awareness of the various triggers that are inherent in this career.