It’s a tight job market and that makes finding and hiring 911 operators – never an easy task – even more difficult. The dispatchers are the linchpin of the emergency response infrastructure. Their response to 911 calls directly effect how quickly and efficiently first responders – firemen, police and others – can reach the emergency.
The job requires those who work as dispatchers to make snap judgments, frequently in life-or-death situations. Their pay is good and is consistent with the manager of a retail store, some of whom are also tasked with making life-changing snap judgments. The current jobless rate stands at 3.9% – an 18-year low. Regrettably, at a number of emergency call centers short on staff and finding the hiring process daunting, there has been a tendency to fill vacancies with “warm bodies.” I think I must have talked to one of those warm bodies recently when I was driving west on a major street in town and looking into the hills surrounding our city. I noticed a black plume of smoke curling up from the hills west of the city and immediately called 911 – it was early in the morning, and I was concerned that no one else would notice the fire in time to do something about it. When I reached the 911 operator, I told her everything that I knew about the situation – which is what I’ve just recounted above – a black plume of smoke in the hills west of the city – and I told her the street and direction which I was traveling, so that she could get the perspective of what I was seeing. She kept trying to get me to be more explicit, which I certainly could NOT do – I wanted HER to alert fire officials so that they could take it from there, look out THEIR windows, note the black plume of smoke, and determine if they needed to “roll” to examine it closer. Since there now seems to be a crossroads in the hiring process of emergency dispatch personnel, I suggest that some serious time and thought be given to training this group of personnel on how to know when they have enough information to alert a first responder. In my case, for example, she did – there’s only one street that leads up into the hills that I was describing, thus the location would have been easy to pinpoint. But something in her response protocol had her moving down a list of pro forma questions without bothering to think: “If it IS a serious fire outbreak and I don’t get firemen involved quickly the whole town could go up!” Since the pool for hiring is certainly made up of recent generations who have not been taught how to think critically during their formal education process, then part of the new training protocol will certainly need to contain a strong segment on critical thinking. And, likely that will be necessary, no matter the age group that is being hired – critical thinking seems to be in decline in the nation.
CALLING 911 : emergency response