Show Goes On

Sherri Stigler

With the dawn of a new year, it seems like the perfect opportunity to take a deep breath and reflect upon our calling … our choice to “be” 911. Like many of you, I often wonder about how on earth, among the chaos swirling around us daily, we manage to hold it together. We are the directors, the air traffic controllers … and, for all practical purposes, the “ringmasters” of this circus … where anything can happen and you always tend to be exposed to the unique and unusual. Yes, indeed, folks, this IS our circus, and these ARE our monkeys.

As the ringmasters, we are tasked to make sense of it all so that we send the right help to the right place at the right time. And sometimes that takes a lot of doing.

Recently, I was on the operations floor watching as the staff was busy multitasking their way through a particularly intense burst of critical calls. The phones were ringing off the wall; the voices became louder and more numerous. Police, fire, and EMS radios were squawking away. What did I see? Pure focus from those dispatchers; intensity; listening for the next transmission; anticipating; teamwork. I heard things like “I got the tow,” “I’ll call flight (air medical),” and “I’ll advise the supervisor.” It was amazing to watch them weave order and calm in the midst of chaos, in the middle of the circus.

I ask myself how a person is drawn to do what we do, because it is truly fascinating.

How do we speak gently to a child who calls because his parents are in the middle of a serious domestic disturbance? How do we find the patience to get information from an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s who called (as she does every few days) because she misplaced her keys again? How do we find the courage to calm a panicked woman in order to direct her to begin CPR on her husband or to coach a frightened father to help deliver his first baby? How do we maintain a clear and even tone in our voice when the officer on the other end of our radio is in hot pursuit of a robbery suspect?

The answer begins and ends in each of us drawn to this profession. We are a special breed. Our director, Gary Bell, tells new employees that they are among the elite 2 percent of the population who can do what we do. We see close to a 50 percent wash-out rate within the first six months of employment at our center. It has nothing to do with our hiring process, because it’s extensive. It has nothing to do with our training program, because it’s top notch.

It does have everything to do with a person’s ability to function and get it right under those inevitable pressures that exist in the 911 environment. It has everything to do with keeping under control.

There is a special “something” that we “ringmasters” share. It is a unique combination of intelligence, empathy, bravery, resiliency, patience, humor, and heart. We are willing to stand in the middle and somehow direct organization when the circus seems to be running amok. And we love every minute of it. Those who enter this profession who are simply “jobbers” will find themselves on the outside of the tent looking in, and the show must go on without them.

We are among the elite, and we strive to be the very best ringmaster possible. We must never stop learning and never stop growing. We must keep our sense of humor, as the clowns will, even though they are sometimes sad and afraid on the inside. Our audience is worth the effort. Remember, this is our circus, and these are our monkeys. Congratulations!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sherri Stigler is the Training and Operations Manager for Waukesha County Communications, Wisconsin, USA, a combined dispatch center in southeastern Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee, a land where the beer runs freely and locals proudly stack cheese on just about everything and call it great.

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