I find it difficult to understand the argument over whether or not an emergency dispatcher should be included in the definition of a First Responder.
Merely looking at the words First Responder should tell us that emergency dispatchers are usually the first to receive notice of trouble. First Responders: in the majority of circumstances, they are the ones initially responding to complainants and victims. They answer the phone calls of witnesses and victims who are experiencing what may be the most traumatic experience in their lives.
They are the ones that must listen, try to gather information, relay the information, keep the caller calm and try to reassure the caller that help is on the way. They must perform, all while knowing that they themselves cannot reach through the phone and offer a helping hand.
Our emergency dispatchers are also the ones who take on the responsibility of keeping each and every law enforcement officer, fire fighter and emergency medic safe. They listen to every transmission and keep track of dozens of calls. Dispatchers recognize almost every voice they hear and do their absolute best to make sure every single one of those officers on the streets makes it home safe and sound.
I guess my true respect for dispatch came early in my career. I had already faced the issue of life and death, having to take a man’s life who wanted to kill me. I had no idea how calm and collected my dispatcher had remained, directing assistance to my location.
I don’t recall much about the specifics, after the shooting, but I do remember listening to the transmissions that followed. I was surprised that I had lost my cool, shouting into the radio in some incomprehensible manner.
The dispatcher, with whom I had worked with for just a little over a year, recognized my voice, distinguished what I was saying, and made sure that help was on the way. While one threat had been neutralized, a hostile crowd was gathering and new threats were appearing.
My dispatcher was not only deciphering my call for assistance, but she was taking calls and understanding the situation in which I found myself. That reassuring voice in my ear, letting me know that help was en route was like an angel’s voice. That may have been the first time, but it sure wasn’t the last over 20 years of law enforcement that a dispatcher was there for me when I needed them.
IT COULD HAVE BEEN MY LAST CALL
Perhaps the most memorable time a dispatcher saved my ass was just a year or so later. I was on a traffic stop and had arrested the driver for DUI. I had the passenger exit the vehicle. I noticed a large bag of marijuana hanging out of his pocket. The passenger wasn’t acting strange, so I figured he was too drunk to realize the drugs hanging in plain view.
I had the passenger turn around and began my pat-down. He was smoking a cigarette and had it hanging in his mouth. I took control of the passenger’s left hand, so I could handcuff him, at the same time he reached up with his right hand to hold his cigarette and take a long drag. I ordered him to throw the cigarette down and place his right hand behind his back.
Instead of complying, he continued to take a long, slow drag on his cigarette. Again, I ordered him to drop the cigarette and place his right hand behind his back. Well, he dropped the cigarette and the fight began. I was prepared, because I had felt his arm begin to tense, so I began taking him to the ground.
Understand that, at the time, I was 6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds and at the time had about 5% body fat. I attempted an arm-bar take down, at which time I found myself being thrown across the road by this guy’s single arm. As I landed on the ground, he rushed me.
I was able to get to my feet as he grabbed me. One arm went for my throat while the other went to my gun side. Instinctively my left hand reached across and clasped his hand tight as he was grabbing my gun. My right hand was holding a four cell MAGLite that I began using as an impact weapon.
My suspect continued trying to rip the gun and holster from my side, despite repeated strikes, and somehow, I found myself on his back. I took a brief moment to depress that little red ‘oh shit’ button on my radio. The first thing my dispatcher heard was me yelling at the suspect, “Get the fuck off my gun!” Once I knew I had the radio open, I began striking the suspect again and trying to make sure my holster was not ripped from my side.
I also began trying to give my location.
The problem was: I was giving my location some five blocks away. Once again, my dispatcher recognized my voice and knew where I had called out. While she sent a couple of units to the location I was calling out now, she also sent units to my initial location, saying she didn’t think I had run that far without calling out.
I continued fighting for all I was worth, including several strikes to the suspect’s head (at this point it was a deadly force situation) and nothing was stopping this guy. When he heard the approaching sirens, he pushed me away and took flight.
I gave chase, caught him at the top of a barbed wire fence, where I thought for sure I would stop him. I grabbed both legs and watched as barbed wire dug into his chest and arms. My efforts were met with a boot to the face and he was gone again. In the end, our canine officer subdued the suspect and a drug test at the hospital revealed he was high on PCP.
When I completed the paperwork, we did an inspection of my equipment. My MAGLite was bent and my holster was barely hanging on. He had literally ripped the leather and stitching on a leather, SS3 holster.
I have little doubt that had my dispatcher not been listening, recognized my voice, used her knowledge to cover both areas I had called out at, and gotten units to me in time, my holster would’ve been ripped off my side and then God only knows what the ending would have been.
Despite the very first words she heard, she remained calm and professional, once again sending the cavalry to my aid. Before that shift ended, I made sure she understood how thankful I was and that she received the recognition she deserved.
THE CARING OF GOD & MOM – IN ONE PERSON
I could go on and on about the times dispatchers have been there for me. Sure, I also have a couple of nightmare stories about times they weren’t there for me. However, those are few and they only made me realize just how special good dispatchers are.
They have the ability to remain calm and collected and are able to multitask. Dispatchers remain professional under the most trying circumstances and have that angelic voice reassuring you that help is on the way. They reassure you that will be okay. All of those skills and qualities combine to give them a special place in my heart and prayers.
Those who argue that dispatchers do not deserve First Responder status like law enforcement, fire, or emergency medical staff, have never witnessed what these men and women do for society.
They have never had their life saved in a time of chaos.
They have never seen or heard the way a dispatcher gives hope to those calling in, asking for help.
They have never seen the pain and worry in their eyes when an officer doesn’t answer or is in harm’s way.
In other words, they have zero understanding about the life and job of a dispatcher.
GOD LOVE ‘EM ALL
Yes, I hold my dispatchers in high esteem! I have several that are more than co-workers, they are personal friends. We’ve shared laughs, tears, high times and low times. We’ve yelled at each other for mistakes – not because we were mad – but because we knew how much each cared and how important we are to one another.
YES, they are First Responders and they deserve the same respect and benefits we all demand. Officers, I urge you to do your best to recognize your dispatchers! You would not want their job, and if you are in this job long enough, I can almost guarantee you that there will be a time they will save your ass too!
To my dispatchers: God Bless you and may you never doubt how valuable you are to those of us on the streets and those individuals who are calling in, looking for a guardian angel!
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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