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Just a Dispatcher

Amer Tobing

I spent 23 years in the Fire Department as a firefighter, EMT, Paramedic, and 911 call-taker, dispatcher, and supervisor. You would think that fighting a fire, providing care to a trauma patient, or administering CPR to an infant would be hard… and yes, without a doubt it was! However, nothing could have prepared me for working at the 911 Center.

At the time, I thought going to the 911 Center was a good career move, and generally speaking, it was! I had been a medic for almost 10 years, and it was time for a change.  Some of my close friends and colleagues thought I was crazy as they knew me to have a lot of energy and sitting in a chair for many hours would be a challenge.  They were right, but wrong!

The move to the 911 Center proved to be more challenging than being a firefighter, EMT, or Paramedic!  It was beyond stressful and something no one can truly understand until they live it, not even firefighters, EMTs, or Paramedics.  

I recently came across an amazing Facebook post and it truly hit home.  Although I am retired now from the fire department and spend my days as a CPR instructor, this post was something I felt over my years at the 911 Center.

To all my fellow 911 brothers and sisters who serve their citizens, I thank you for your endless, tiring, stressful, and long days and nights!  I know what you go through and I know what you feel.  Thank you!

November 28, 2018

“Just A Dispatcher”

In order to understand who I am, you must first understand what I do.

I am the person who listens to you cry as you’re begging your mother to take another breath.

I am the person who tries to get you to give your father CPR knowing that he has passed but, in some way, may help you to know you did everything that you could.

I am the person who walks you thru the Heimlich maneuver while your child is choking on a toy.

I am the person who convinces you that life is worth living and that your family needs you here when you think that all hope is gone.

I am the person who leaves my family, my home, and put my own life in danger during snow, hurricanes, and bad weather so that I may be here to answer your emergency.

I am simply “Just A Dispatcher” in most eyes.

To my family and friends please understand that when I’m short-tempered or impatient it’s not you, it’s the weight of my job that may have taken a toll that day. Instead of bringing it home, I choose to keep it bottled up to protect you from the reality of the world in which we live.

To my kids please understand when I’m strict and paranoid wanting to track your every movement it’s because I know that a child didn’t make it home to their family that day.

To my mother please forgive me for not having the patience to always sit thru your entire conversation, it's only because I’m trained to get all pertinent information within a certain amount of time. So, I don’t have the patience that I use to.

To my friends please understand when I can’t show up for every birthday or event you may have invited me to. Or the times we aren’t able to talk on the phone to catch up, it may be because I may be working or too mentally drained to be there.

To the thousands of callers that I speak to that think that I’m “Just a Dispatcher” remember that I may not be the first to arrive at your house but I’m the first person that you may speak to on possibly one of the worse days of your life.

So, I will leave with a quote from Dr. Seuss “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

Written By: Lynette McManus Jeter
Henrico County, Va

Let’s see how a 911 call looks like…


911 Call-Taker (CT): “911… do you police, fire or ambulance?”

Caller: “Ambulance”  

(CT): “Fire and Ambulance, what’s the address of the emergency?”

Caller: “576 Main Street, Rockport MD 32470.” 

CT: “Is this a house or an apartment?”

Caller: “Actually an office building, the name of the company is AGT Consulting in Suite 505.”

CT: “What’s a good call back number in case we get disconnected?”

Caller: “370-555-9843”

CT: “What is your name?”

Caller: “Michael”

CT: “Michael, tell me exactly what happen?”

Caller: “We were in the middle of a meeting and suddenly one of my business partners started sweating and having trouble breathing. He’s now complaining of chest pains.”

CT: “Are you with him right now?”

Caller: “Yes”

CT: “How old is he?”

Caller: “57”

CT: “Is he conscious?”

Caller: “Yes”

CT: “Is he breathing completely normal?”

Caller: “Yes”

CT: “Is he changing color?”

Caller: “Yes… he’s pale!”

CT: “Ok, I’m sending the call to the dispatcher, stay on the phone, I have a few more questions to ask you and will give you some instructions…”

A few tips…

As the call-taker sends the information over to be dispatched, remember it is important to be patient and wait for further questions and instructions. 

The dispatcher is ensuring that the correct units are being recommended so that the correct help is being sent to the correct address. The call-taker will continue to ask a few more questions to further investigate and ensure that the correct help is being dispatched.

Don’t be surprised when the call-taker asks you for you to confirm the location of the emergency several times. This is to ensure the fire department is going to the correct address. Sometimes background noise, a bad cell connection, or a language barrier could be the cause of sending help to the wrong location. 

As a reminder, the address of the emergency is the first and most critical piece of information when calling 911. If for some reason the line is disconnected after the address is obtained by the 911 call-taker, help will be sent to that address! 

Studies have shown that it takes a few seconds for someone to realize that an emergency is actually happening. Sometimes we think others may step up and take charge… but in fact that “other” someone maybe you! Emergencies require people to step up and take charge, and just as importantly remain calm… which is easier said than done. Staying calm means realizing that someone needs you in a time of need. Someone needs you to stay focused, assess the situation, and delegate tasks. 

Remember that when calling 911, the call-taker is there to help you help the patient. Take a deep breath, know exactly where you, then call 911. If you take charge of an emergency situation, calling 911 may take you away from the position overseeing the entire situation. Have someone else call 911 and you can help answer any pertinent questions during the 911 process. 

The role of calling 911 is an integral part of the Chain of Survival, and answering the call-takers questions is critical to ensuring the proper help being dispatched to the exact location of the emergency! 

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