One of a few hashtags signaling support for 911 dispatchers.
It’s not the only one. #NTW, #ThinGoldLine…there are a heartwarming amount of groups offering merchandise, peer support, solidarity, and advice for dispatchers dealing with vocation-induced stress.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough. Not even close.
Dispatchers are witness to unimaginable horrors. Drowned children, murdering parents, abuse, suicide. All the devils we read about and see in the news.
But in real time, and on an open 911 call.
This can cause lasting damage, physically and psychologically.
We become vessels, conduits for information and little else, lest we get consumed by the scope of it. Our families suffer. How do I engage in a conversation with my wife, or play with my kids, when the details of that day’s suicide–a man who threw himself off the 10th floor of a casino parking garage–are on repeat in my head?
Long-needed studies now show that dispatchers are as vulnerable to PTSD as field EMS colleagues.
And poor working conditions make the difficult job unmanageable. There is little to no support when a dispatcher handles a particularly gruesome call, and twelve to sixteen-hour shifts, fast food, and all-day sitting lend to an average of 30lbs gained in the first 2 years on the job.
There has been legislative push to reclassify 911 dispatchers as first responders, but so far only a handful of states have followed through.
Each year Florida unions promise it will happen, that THIS year will be the year dispatchers get their due. But we don’t. And we continue to claw our way to retirement, toward a miserable 30% of our pay. Hell of a reward for 30 years of hero work.
Consider drug-dealing, fellow dispatchers. At least then your house will get paid off. I hear MDMA is a big thing now. Stock up, get to work.
Pamela Cooper, a Phoenix 911 dispatcher, was recovering from COVID-19 when her supervisor messaged to let her know she would be mandated for overtime. Again. She informed her supervisor that she felt terrible, “like she was going to die.”
Her supervisor told her to grab a snack. To hunker down.
Cooper stopped breathing later that night and fell into a coma. She passed away on March 5th. Her family and friends continue to raise money to help with the expenses (hover for link).
What can be said about a service that is understaffed, micromanaged, and mistreated to the degree that employees risk their lives to avoid getting written up? At the very least, a change in title.
911 dispatchers ARE first responders.