By Sherri Stigler
Like it or not, there is growing anticipation of consolidation, shared services, and developing statewide certification and training standards for public safety dispatchers. All of this is worthy of exploration and dedicated effort, especially since our common goal will be to ride the waves, not to be consumed by them.
I have spent a majority of my career hunkered down like many of you in the confines of a local police department or sheriff’s office. Often referred to as a “basement dweller,” I have worked alone or with the assistance of two dispatchers at the most. We know the officers personally, and I even married one of them. (After 29 years of bliss, I confess that to this day I continue to enjoy telling him where to go … LOL.)
We also had every reason for rejecting the EMD Protocols, because, after all, we had precious little time for asking all the questions and far too few of us to afford the public such “luxuries.” We met talks of consolidation with wild rejection and fear of losing jobs and the personal connections between dispatch and the community. How in the world is a dispatcher in a consolidated center supposed to know that Joe’s supper club has now become Antoine’s Italian Delight? How are these new dispatchers supposed to know that Mrs. Murphy in “Anytown” suffers from dementia and often meanders toward the local park to watch the birds? How will the multitude of dispatchers in the new center become part of the community’s public safety family if they are not housed in the smaller PSAPs?
These are real concerns that deserve careful consideration and honest, intelligent response from those thinking of consolidating services. It should always be about what is best for the people calling for emergency services. Decisions should not focus on the dollars that can be saved but rather upon the lives that can be saved. There is a big difference between an untrained dispatcher telling a mother whose child isn’t breathing that the ambulance is on the way and a trained EMD reassuring the mom that help is on the way before telling her how to perform CPR until responders arrive on scene. It is about the power of the protocol and the empowerment of the first, first responder.
Bigger isn’t always better, and it takes the right heart, the right people, and a cooperative spirit to make it work. For example, smaller PSAPs contemplating whether to move to a shared or consolidated space must keep an open mind about the benefits that could result from consolidation. The PSAP must also be willing to share the knowledge of treasured community information. A larger center that is truly a quality- and customer-service driven center will provide a plan that prioritizes people-centric services afforded in the smaller environment.
Consolidation wasn’t easy for us, but, over time, we arrived at a positive working environment. Dispatchers and first responders from a diversity of communities have established good professional relationships. They actively participate in community activities, such as visiting schools to teach younger students about calling 911. They support SWAT teams as tactical dispatchers. I’m fairly confident that some partake in social outings with the officers and firefighters. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what it says on the side of their response vehicles, they are OUR responders and we are THEIR dispatchers. We care for, laugh with, and cry with each other. When they hurt, we hurt. We are a large but connected family.
I have heard that the “tides of change bring great purpose in our lives.” This is true, and, as long as we are open to the possibilities, the tides can deliver an uplifting, powerful, and progressive ride toward the safety of the shores.