Be a 911 Dispatcher, We Get Cookies

We’re getting a new radio system in our dispatch center, and the guy training us on it claims we could use it at home, on a laptop.

This is a great idea in theory: It would save me gas, and clothes would be cheaper if all I had to buy was pajamas. Of course, video 911 is coming, and callers might not be comfortable with my Star Trek onesie.

Actually, callers might not like seeing me no matter what clothes I’m wearing.

“You got what stuck WHERE?”

This is my thirtieth year celebrating Public Safety Telecommunications Week, which is in April between the snow storms, brush fires, and tornadoes. Since the title’s so long, I started calling it PSTW, which is kind of ironic because PSTW sounds a lot like PTSD. Everyone who’s dispatched longer than seven years gets to know both. It’s science.

Here’s the strange thing: I’m burned out on this job. Once too often I’ve picked up the 911 line only to hear hysterical screaming. Once too often I was the last person someone ever talked to. Once too often the name of a victim or suspect ended up being someone I knew.

Yet it’s still the best full time job I ever had.


I actually do wear a cape, but only at home when no one is watching. But yay, cookie! Better keep it away from the dog.


(To be fair, my part time radio DJ job was nothing but fun, even though I kind of sucked at it. But that job, in a problem similar to my writing gig, barely paid enough for the gas to get there.)

Maybe it’s because we’re actually doing something important. That’s a weird thing to define when it comes to jobs, because the best paying ones often are the least important. When a family member is having a heart attack, you don’t call your favorite sportsball player for an ambulance. For that matter, when your water pipe bursts you don’t look up the number for Beyonce, or Reba McEntire. (Actually, Reba could probably help.)

But that’s the way it goes, and at least I’ve never been stalked by a 911 groupie.


I know the artist!


If you’ve considered being a dispatcher, I’d encourage it. It’s way more important than being a security guard at the Oscars. (Ahem.) Also, you have to be really bad at it to lose your job–the demand for dispatchers just continues to go up.

Still, it can be just a bit stressful. When I’m talking to new people, I like to give them a few tips they don’t get in formal training:

No matter what the caller says when you pick up the line, never reply with “You gotta be kidding me.”

Always know if you have a live mic. Always.

Try to avoid cursing in dispatch–see above about live mics.

Well … at least try not to curse too much.

If you have to scream in the bathroom, turn the water on first.



Yes, you are a first responder. When 911 rings, you’re the first to respond to whatever the problem is. All the others have the advantage of knowing that problem, because you find out.

Hold your temper if your 911 caller starts with, “This isn’t actually an emergency …” Deal with it if the business line rings and it is an emergency. So it goes.

If you have to bang your head against a wall, choose a different place each time, to avoid damage to the concrete.

And finally: If the melatonin gives you nightmares, try sleepytime tea. Sleep is precious.

On a related note, that idea of dispatching on a laptop from home? No. I already have dreams in which I come downstairs and find the dispatch center has been moved to my living room, and I’m the only dispatcher. Besides, I like my Star Trek onesie, and Star Wars pajama bottoms just wouldn’t be the same.



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5 thoughts on “Be a 911 Dispatcher, We Get Cookies”

  1. Here is the address for the publisher of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan monthly call UP Magazine-
    His name is Micheal Van Den Branden and is a really nice guy. He would probably be delighted to have a copy of this article because that is the sort of one he is looking for. It is a unique magazine and one that I actually love to support because it is so different in a way. It has a really postive message (part of the reason for it being called UP) He has unfortunately had to lay off his 6 staff members due to the economy and he and his wife are running it alone. Even if you don’t send them something I would recommend getting a copy of it (it is way oversized for one reason) and check it out for yourself. He especially likes to get humor stuff which he says is hard to find.

  2. With all the advances AI is starting to show, your job and the thirty years of human experience that goes with it cannot be copied.

  3. Wow! Heavy and funny simultaneously.

    You should publish this in other places too. I think this would be good for everyone to read.
    (I think you are from Michigan- I can suggest a mag that would grab it up in a minute, although it might be non-paying.)

    I applied once to be a 911 dispatcher. I didn’t get hired, but always wondered how I would handle it. That is a REAL job. One where you are definitely earning your pay.

    Am glad to have had the oppurtunity to read it.

    1. Thanks! We actually live in Indiana, although we’re only about half an hour south of the Michigan State line. I put that blog up on numerous places: My blog, Facebook, twitter, so on and so fourth … on my Blogger it got about three times more hits than my blogs usually do. Maybe all my practice promoting my books is finally getting traction!

      Being a dispatcher is incredibly stressful, and we’re getting more and more put on us because of increases in technology. When I started we had one computer screen, which used DOS to give us driver’s license and plate information. Now I have six monitors, four mouses, and three keyboards in front of me! I don’t honestly know if I’d have made it if I started training today.

      Thanks for reading!

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