Recently I was honored when fellow Officer.com writer, John Wills, asked me to provide a story for his new compilation, Warriors in High Heels. This collection of stories focuses on the experience of female first responders, including dispatchers. The proceeds of the book will benefit the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. Definitely a good cause.
Although it took me longer than I’d like to admit, I finished my story for the book and spent some time reflecting on completing my first memoir-type narrative. Having been a dispatcher, as well as, an officer’s wife, I have a unique combination of experiences. I enjoyed writing the piece and the reflection and wanted to share a few more stories with my readers.
During my time with Phoenix PD, the department required 9-1-1 operators to cross-train in dispatch within in the first year of employment. This was short lived because the department realized what employees recognized for years: some people are great 9-1-1 operators and lousy dispatchers and vice versa. It was a shame the department would terminate good single-trained operators especially when we were always short staffed. Anyway, that’s a whole other topic.
I cross-trained within my first year and I loved it immediately. I grew to not like 9-1-1 as much. I guess I tolerated it. I had much more fun working with the officers. For the most part, I could understand what they needed and decipher what they were saying unlike on the 9-1-1 lines where I felt my patient was tried time and time again. Maybe that was a good thing for me: learning how to be patient with others. But, again I digress.
Clare was my radio trainer. She had been with the department a long time. She was loud. She was abrupt. She was bossy. She pushed me and never let me do less than what I was capable of which was my best. I loved her. I also believe she made me a competent, responsible, respected dispatcher. It was a joke between her, me and my best friend and her trainer (she was cross-training at the same time and we almost had a competition going to see who would go on her own first—I did) that only the elite could make it in radio and therefore when you do you become a radio princess. I loved the image of it and stated I would wear a tiara on my first day on my own. They all said they would hold me to that.
I learned I was going on my own the night before I went on my own. Clare told me it would probably be just the last hour of the shift. That helped ease the anxiety a bit. That day, I came in prepared for my one hour with my tiara on. I did my hair all pretty around it and I felt great. My trainer and I were scheduled on the South Side channel together and when I walked in she was preparing to set up on the West Side channel. I asked her if we’d been switched. She looked at me and said, “You’re on your own.” So, I did the only thing I could do—I sat down on South Side, fluffed my hair, adjusted my crown and took over. Half-way through the shift, I had a pursuit. I was nervous as all get out but I was dressed the part of a radio princess and I worked it to the best of my ability. Eventually we called it off due to safety, but it was great experience. With that under my belt, I didn’t have to worry about having my first emergency traffic ever again. Now every time I look at my tiara, I remember that night and the importance of the advice, “If you look confident, you are confident.”
When I tell people I’m a dispatcher/9-1-1 operator, many respond with, “That must be so hard,” “How do you deal with all the tragedy?” or “Does it ever bother you?” In general I can say, “No, I’m trained to deal with human misery and I can be reading my chick lit novel, take a shooting call, and then go back to reading. No pause.” Ok, maybe I don’t say it quite like that after all those of us in public safety get accused all the time of being too sarcastic and cynical (define “too”). I do recall one occasion where the incident really got to me.