WHEN I GROW UP

By Sherri Stigler

As a child, did you always dream of becoming a 911 dispatcher? Not me! For the longest time, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then a hairdresser. Then a cop. I became a cop, then figured out I was much more effective on the other side of the radio—safe inside the climate-controlled environment of dispatch. I grew to love it. It became my calling.

It’s probably safe to say that most of you, when youngsters, never really thought about pursuing a public safety dispatch career. Many of us sort of “fell” into this dispatching thing. Some of us may have seen an ad in the newspaper or on a bulletin board that piqued our interest. Others may have had some exposure to the dispatch profession because of involvement in other public safety professions. That’s OK. We’re here now, and we have a unique opportunity to introduce public safety communications as a profession, as a special “calling” that motivates us to reach out to the younger generation.

So how can we support this growth? Consider the following acronym and use these ideas to help ADVANCE our profession!

Advocate training, standards, and protocols. Join groups, write about your experience, and offer to help educate your agency partners.

Dedicate your time and talents to help make a difference.

Start a Vocation foundation to promote dispatching by starting a “sit-in” program. Create an interest in the dispatch profession among high school students and other career-seekers by taking a lesson from the police and fire department explorer post programs across the nation.

Focus on Attitude and adjust if necessary. One negative attitude can be a cancer to the entire staff. Adopt a “believe or leave” philosophy. Mission, vision, and values are critical; make sure you identify and document those in your own center.

Nurture the new employees in your organization. Successful trainees often make tremendous contributions by spreading the word that your organization is a great one to work for.

Focus on a Community education team. If your agency doesn’t have one, get started. Put a display together and purchase items to give away at safety fairs, schools, nursing homes, service organization meetings, national night outs, and pancake breakfasts. Teach people about 911 and emergency medical, fire, and police dispatching.

Excellence is something to strive for. Plan for it. Train to it. Always.

Recently, we hosted special visitors in our dispatch center. Eliza and Sadie Grace are nieces to Alison Lesch, who works in our center. We gave them a tour, introduced them to the dispatchers, gave them treats, and watched as they listened in awe to the radio traffic in the background. They were all smiles.

Their interest brought an immense joy to the dispatchers. It was clear that they were as impressed as young children could ever be, but we never knew the incredible impact the visit had on them until the next week when Alison reported that her sister said the girls were absolutely driving her crazy with constant requests to “play dispatcher.”

Inspired by their enthusiasm, we found two headsets beyond fixing and sent them home with Alison for the girls. The picture above is a result of that simple gift.

I’m glad our path has led us here. I am proud to serve and support the public safety family. We share a unique responsibility and purpose as we seek to promote and advance this incredibly important profession. Let’s continue to ignite the sparks of interest we see in our younger generation, like those we have seen lit in the eyes of children like Sadie and Eliza. They are our promise and our future. 

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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