Thursday, April 16, 2015

They really are the vital link

The other night, I had occasion to call 911.  It was just that a car alarm on a sedan down the street kept honking, and that might have meant that the pesty junior delinquents around here had been up to their nonsense again, trying car doors to find one unlocked.

The calltaker handled the call, probably one of almost 100 she would receive in her 8-hour shift, just perfectly, and she entered the information into a computer, and by the time I sat back down to search the internet for some more home remedies for hay fever (best answer: wait for July to arrive) I heard the police car cruising up our street, having been dispatched by another person at 911.  All well handled, and the officer found out whose car it was, had them check the vehicle and turn off the alarm, and it was back to normal beeswax.

Yes, I used to work there, so I'm a little proud of the place, but 911 Centers - and there's one in each of Maryland's 23 counties, plus the city of Baltimore - don't get enough love to suit me.  This is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (April 13 - 19) and if you know a 911 operator, or police or fire/EMS radio dispatcher, this would be a good week to thank them for doing a great job under tough circumstances.  Indeed, any week would be a good day for doing that.

To begin with, the job is 24-7-365, and that means working snow days, birthdays, weekends, nights, holidays, Uncle Norm's crabfeast day...every day and night.  That's all part of the deal going in, and understood.  The job requires a lot of skills and the ability to stay calm, no matter what.  Calltakers live by the knowledge that no one ever calls 911 because things are going great in their lives. There's a fire in the kitchen, an accident out front, an intruder breaking a window..

Just keep an eye on 3 screens at once
The person who answers the 911 line has probably heard it all, although it's still possible to make them shake their head as they type information into the computer that sends the call details to the radio dispatchers for either police, or fire/EMS, or both. Those are the voices you hear on the scanner, people who are typing, talking and thinking about the needs of up to a dozen field units at once....all of whom might need something at once.

The job pays fairly well, not Range Rover money, but decent bucks for the demands it places on people.  Simply put, their job is to connect the people in a county with 826,000 people living, working and playing within 600 square miles with emergency services as needed, while keeping track of, and providing needed information for, about 2,000 police officers and the equipment housed in 58 fire stations.

While missing Uncle Norm's crabfeast.

Thank a 911 telecommunicator today, please!

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