The Truth Is…

By Kristen

…this profession is hard. You will have to sacrifice time with your family, miss special occasions and give up the notion that you will have a “normal” life. However, you will feel tremendous satisfaction in being a part of something bigger than yourself, being able to help one person at a time with the worst day of their lives. Even if it only happens once in a shift, it is worth all the things you have had to give up.

 
…not everyone is going to understand what role you play in this industry. You are the “voice” of the organization. You solidify efforts made with community outreach; how you respond will make or break that tenuous relationship. You influence the relationship between your officers and the public. Be secure in the knowledge, even if you are the only one who knows it, you make this industry what it is…compassionate, professional, effective.

…we are witness to some horrific moments in people’s lives. We also bear witness to some amazing moments; births, rescues, people confronting their demons and who are victorious. We can be proud to say that we were there when someone needed us. They will never know us, but we know them and a small part of their story. We share in their lives, and that is a privilege.

…this is one of the most rewarding professions one can hope to be a part of. We work hard to get here and a lot of time and effort is put into getting us fully trained up. Some people make it and some people don’t. Not everyone is built to handle the stressors of shift work, operations, and (of course) working with the callers and officers, everyday, sometimes for 16 hours with little break. But then we get that one call from a woman who has been beat up again by her boyfriend, or the call from a man who is about to become a Dad for the first time, or (and heaven save us all) from the officer in trouble and all the pieces fall into place and everyone goes home safe and sound. We can thank all of that training, hard work, and sometimes tears, for being there and making it a good outcome.

…I wouldn’t trade this life for any other.

Humour: An Essential Part of Life

DM Humour

Written by Dispatch Monkey Admin, Kristen

Humour is an essential part of life. We use it to express happiness, to create a connection with other people, to conceal our emotions and yes, even to help us through stressful events. Victor Borge, one of the great humourists (and an extremely intelligent man, in my humble opinion) once said:
“Humour is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humour than in anything else. Because, you see, humour is truth.”
A sense of humour is important, and beneficial! We use humour to get us through a long day or night shift, sometimes to help us pass the time, sometimes to create a sense of lightness and sometimes to get through a really bad call; it can help release tension, break the ice, hide anxiety or fear, and help us with social acceptance. There are several theories about what humour is, identified and defined by various psychologists. The three main theories are:
  • Superiority Theory – we feel better about ourselves because we are laughing at someone else’s failing or deficiency, or perhaps even our own. Such an example would be the time the officer pinged the cellphone of the subject only to find out, at the second ping request, that he actually pinged the phone number of his partner!! We all guffawed at that one.
  • Incongruity Theory – the situation has an unexpected, or incongruous, outcome; that is to say, the “set-up” and the “punch line”. For example, that time the traffic cop’s patrol unit ran out of gas…classic!!
  • Relief Theory – exactly as it sounds, a release of nervous energy to hide or express feelings. Remember that night shift, at the end of the month, when you felt (only a little bit) bad when you told your sheriff that the subject’s tags expired…(tee hee) 9 minutes ago?
The physical benefits of humour are plentiful. Laughing releases endorphins alleviating pain, it boosts the circulatory system increasing oxygen levels, is relaxes muscles, and lowers blood pressure and the heart rate. There are also psychological benefits such as relieving anxiety, anger, stress and depression. It improves morale and self-esteem, and helps to create feelings of hope, of intimacy and of optimism.
What makes us special is that, more often than not, our sense of humour can be – understandably – dark because of the situations we deal with on a daily, nay hourly, basis. How is it that we can feel superior to someone who is hallucinating because of some undiagnosed mental health issue and have a little giggle at what they are seeing on their ceiling? How is it that we smile (and roll our eyes) at our co-workers about the caller who is having a really bad day and called 911 because someone was stealing….their recycling?!? How is it that we crack a, what may be perceived as inappropriate, remark after receiving a call about a multi-vehicle collision involving serious injuries? Because…our experience is such that our truth is more calamitous than that of the “average” person. A common saying amongst the folks in this industry is “their worst day is our everyday”. So when you factor that into what influences our sense of humour: derision is exacerbated by fatigue and frustration, incongruity is experienced in hyperbole, and relief mitigated with sarcasm and morbidity.
Being able to find humour in the tragic is influenced by our proximity, or lack thereof, to the event. That is to say, psychological distance created by space, time, social connection or conscious separation. What they are saying is that humour can be found in a situation when it happens far from our sphere of influence, or some time has passed (when it’s not “too soon”), when it happens to someone we have no relation to or if we can’t  personally empathize with the situation. All, or a combination of, these circumstances are in place when we use black humour to cope with a tragic event.
So, the next time you laugh at some outrageous situation and your first thought is “oh, I am going to H-E-double hockey sticks”, take heart…you may actually be normal! You are doing your best to make sense of a situation that makes very little sense and you may actually be helping your colleagues deal with that same situation. And on that note, I will share my most morbid of comments:
One day while co-workers and I were discussing aid missions in Turkey and, tragically, people died when trying to get to food that was being dropped, I made a comment that essentially came out as “they were dying for food.” There were dropped jaws all around but there was also laughing once the shock wore off. And to think I wasn’t even if  this industry at the time! I was well prepared to use this, occasional,  coping skill.
However, a word of caution…when you express your humour ONLY using negative and/or sarcastic inappropriate comments you may have reached your threshold and should look at seeking out professional assistance.
~kko

Somethin’ Fishy

gold-fish-looks-sad

A while back, I took a 911 call of a two vehicle collision. This call started out routinely enough, as I followed our SOP’s. The information gathering progressed quickly through the most important questions; “What is the location?”, “Are there injuries?”, “Are the vehicles blocking traffic?”, “Is anything leaking?”. Satisfied with answers to these questions, I continued on with the less vital information gathering.

When I finished with the caller’s info, I asked if I could speak with the other driver. The caller proceeded to tell me that the other driver had left, but had informed her that she would be right back. Finding this unusual, thinking that I was now dealing with a hit and run, I asked if she knew where the other caller had gone; I was not prepared for the answer that I received.

Apparently, the other driver told the caller that she had her fish with her in the vehicle and had to take it to the pet shop to get it checked out. Finding this obviously very strange, thinking that I had likely misheard, I asked her to repeat this and sure enough she repeated exactly what I thought she had said. Needless to say, in my eleven years of emergency dispatch, I have never heard an excuse like this and I thought that the caller had just had a fast one pulled on them.

As I was asking for clarification, the caller told me that other driver had come back. Since I was very curious, I decided that I definitely needed to speak with the other driver. When she took the phone, I asked if she did indeed have a fish and actually had to take it to the pet shop. To which she replied with a sigh, that she did have a fish her and that she had decided to take it back home to its tank instead. Resisting the urge to ask why she had a fish in her car, I simply asked if it was alright instead. With big a sigh of relief the driver said that she thought it would be.

Once I disconnected, I sent the file over to the dispatcher, with a chuckle and quick explanation. Later on, the dispatcher forwarded me a message from the officer concerning the fish that read: “The fish is going to make it!!!!!! Minor injuries, mostly shock from the accident, expected to make a full recovery and live a long healthy life….well, as long as fish live before they take their final porcelain journey.”

Look Out the Window

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During a recent shift, one of my co-workers was sorting through an old binder that held her notes, cheat sheets and contact numbers from approximately 8-10 years ago. Reading over them, we realized that a lot has changed over the last eleven years plus years that we have been on this job. It was interesting to hear names of co-workers long retired, or moved on, stories and other reminders of dispatch days gone by.

One such story, was a call for assistance that my co-worker had taken a number of years ago; the outcome of which was rather humorous. The story starts with an intoxicated male calling for help, because he was lost. Unfortunately, back in those days our 911 call info came off on a printer and did not include GPS locations for the phones. So, the call-takers were having to rely on this fellow’s directions which were very sketchy at best, as he was giving road names that didn’t actually exist. Needless to say, the caller’s “unintentional” misdirection was making it very difficult for our officers to locate him. Plus, as the night wore on, he was becoming more and more intoxicated, because he was drinking as he walked.

Fast forward to much later in the shift; a new call for help is received. It came from a farmer, who had an unknown intoxicated male enter his home to ask for help. My co-worker and the dispatched officer quickly determined that there was likely a correlation between the suspicious male and the intoxicated male. So, the officer heads on over to the farmer’s residence and does indeed discover that the subjects are one in the same.

Shortly before shift end, my co-worker received a message from the officer that had dealt with the call. He informed her that the intoxicated male, had earlier been involved in a collision on the highway. Officers attended to that scene and at the time the male had not been drinking and told the officer that he had a ride on the way. So, the officer left him while he waited. After a while, the caller got bored waiting in his truck and decided to get drunk, really drunk. Some time had passed and when his ride didn’t show, he was feeling cold and decided to start looking for help. This ultimately led to the predicament of him walking into the farmer’s house and scaring them half to death.

The officer said “Too bad the alcohol had dulled his sense of sight…a half a mile away, was a gas station”. He explained further that they had three helicopters, officers from multiple jurisdictions, ems and fire all looking for the guy, “When all he had to do was…..Look out the window!”

Super Chickens or Super Team: Which one do you want to be?

***I would like to welcome my new admin, Kristen, to the Dispatch Monkey blog. She is a police dispatcher and a “Peer to Peer” support advisor.  Kristen has a great way of writing, that makes one really contemplate the issues at hand. She will be a regular contributor to the Dispatch Monkey blog and social media pages.***

chickens

I was recently listening to a podcast about “The Meaning of Work” and the speaker, Margaret Heffernan, was talking about a study on productivity that used chickens as the subjects. The gist of it is:

  • Group 1 of chickens (control group) are average producers, just a regular bunch of chickens going about their business doing chicken-y type stuff.
  • Group 2 of chickens (super chickens) are all high producers. They were the highest layers in their respective clans and were put all together in a coop to see if they would still be high producers, or even higher.

What is so very interesting about this study, you can read it here, is that the “average” chickens continued to be good producers, all got along, and lived happy chicken lives. However, the super chickens, literally, pecked each other to death, leaving only 3 of the group alive. What Margaret Heffernan was speaking of is how a group of highly productive chickens can create an extremely toxic environment, but a group of regular chickens are amiable, perform well as a team and get the job done. Heffernan made the correlation to the workplace saying that we should be cultivating a team of diversity; high-flyers, average performers, ones who may need some assistance. This mix fosters an environment of collaboration, supportiveness, and general well-being. Can’t disagree with her there!! The other team picked each other apart! Sound familiar to anyone??

What does this mean to us as highly-effective, highly-trained, (usually) type A personality folks working in a high-stress industry, and why do we seem to have issues with “eating our own”? No 911 emergency centre is immune to bullying and harassment, no workplace is; heck, I’ll even go so far as to say that I have participated in some of that behaviour, not intentionally, because of circumstances and fatigue. How many of you have witnessed the effects of bullying and harassment in the workplace? How many of you were affected by it directly? How many of you stood up for yourself or someone else? How many of you felt defeated and deflated after it happened? Witnessing multiple bullying events, or even consistent mistreatment of employees, can be a drain on our already dwindling reserve of resilience. We need to learn to ask ourselves – why, when we are care-givers to so many other people, are we sometimes unable to care for each other? The effects of bullying and harassment in the workplace run the gamut of feelings of isolation, depression, anger, demotivation…and many others. Why, when we already have enough trouble maintaining healthy, positive attitudes, do we allow this type of behaviour to occur? Is it really because we are all a bunch of super chickens trying to succeed in our coop of choice? Do we feel like we have to beat down others to make us more important? Do we feel like we need to “weed out” the not-so-high-flyers? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter why it happens – the point is…it just CAN’T anymore, and we all need to be responsible and accountable for our actions.

So in the interest of science – well not really, but it sounds good – what can we do as a group to ensure that we don’t peck each other to death? We need to learn to accept our differences, tolerate our idiosyncrasies, and learn to appreciate those things that make us a diverse group. We need to learn to moderate our language on those days were we aren’t feeling our best. We NEED to be as tolerant and compassionate with each other as we are with our clientele!! Let’s all try to be healthy chickens – living our best chicken lives so that we can live in a happy coop, lay good eggs and do our best to take care of the hearts of those around us.

~KKO

 

 

Dispatch HiJinks

There are times in dispatch when you just have to take the opportunity to have a bit of fun with the officers. A little hijinks can make even the slowest moving night go by so much faster (if only for an hour). One night shift, during National Telecommunicators Week, we did just that with a perfectly hatched plan.

At our center, we were having an open house and had invited our officers to come in for a visit. That night, I was tasked with taking the officers on tours and answering any questions.  At one point, I had three of them come up for a visit. As I was showing them around, we swapped stories about some of the different hijinks that dispatch has played on them and vice versa. Then one of them stated that they were having a BBQ for their watch Sergeant, who was transferring to another unit and we should convince him that his truck had been stolen.

Of course, I was all for pulling off another prank and we started to hatch the plan. It was decided that we should go over the radio to dispatch a stolen vehicle file. This file would have details that the vehicle was believed to be stolen due to a broken window, erratic driving, that it had struck parked vehicles and was seen heading northbound at a high rate of speed. We decided that this was perfect and to wait until most of the other officers were back at the office for the BBQ.

After seeing our visitors out, I went back into the comm. center. Then I shared that the officers and I had come up with a plan to prank the watch Sergeant. After receiving permission from the supervisor, I asked my dispatch partner if she would like to have the honors. She laughed and said that she would like too.

As the BBQ approached, one of the officer’s called to let us know that it was almost time. He also confirmed for us, the make, model and license plate of the “stolen” truck. When nearly the whole watch was in the office, the dispatch went out. My partner executed a flawless description of the vehicle, the license plate, description of driving pattern and direction of travel. She even butchered the pronunciation of the Sergeant’s name for good measure. Upon hearing the details, you could hear the Sergeant ask the dispatcher to repeat the license plate. When it was confirmed, he apparently jumped up and headed for the door. However he quickly realized that none of the others were following him, as they continued to sit nonchalantly eating their burgers.

Good times were had by all…except the Sergeant.

IMG_0483

 

 

 

What not do….When You’re High

Now it goes without saying that some of the most strange calls can come from people who are intoxicated, or high. When we receive these types of calls, we will send help to them, but at times they do provide a little “comic relief” to the shift. The following story is one of those calls…

One night shift, my partner took a call on 911, from a male who started the call with “I’m high on drugs.” My partner not sure that she heard correctly, asked “Who’s high on drugs?” To which the caller replied, “I am…”

Once my partner confirmed what she had heard was in fact correct, she then asked the caller, “Do you need an ambulance?”  and “What kind of drugs are you on?” The caller, likely realizing that he was basically incriminating himself said, “Oh, I think I better call a lawyer before I tell you that.” Before my partner could ask anything else, he proceeded to say “Never mind, I’m OK, I’m just drunk.” Then promptly disconnected the line.

Due to the nature of the call and likelihood that it did in fact involve drugs, my partner created a file to dispatch to an officer. Since she did not have many details, besides the strange exchange between the caller and herself, she sent it out as an unknown assist with the little info that she did have.

Of course we had a good chuckle over this call and if this were the end, it is a great story. However, there is more…

Not long after the initial call, the PSAP took another 911 call from the same number. The male caller was on the line wanting to know our “Opinion of the war on drugs,” then stated the he “Wants to go to war.” This time the caller disconnected prior to the PSAP transferring to us. So, as per our standard operating procedures, another one of our call-taking partners attempted a callback to the number. All she received was a voicemail message that said, “Many blessings, have a wonderful day!”

When the officers attended, they did indeed find the caller; Fortunately, he wasn’t violent and was not danger to the officers, or himself. However, he was very high, disoriented & discombobulated. So, the officers gave him a helping hand out to the ambulance that they had called for him.

Let this be a lesson kids….”Just say, ‘NO’ to drugs!!”

What not to do when you're high

 

 

 

 

 

That Darkness Known as Depression

clouds

I am an Emergency Dispatcher and I must do something which is very difficult for me to do. I am admitting that I have PTSD, depression and anxiety. There, I said it, it’s now “out there” and I will no longer be ashamed to admit this. I also know that there are many others in the Emergency Dispatch community, that are quietly struggling as well. Although we do not see the scenes that we send our officers, firefighters and medics to, we are not immune to the trauma. In finally admitting this, I am hopefully helping to put an end to the stigma that surrounds these mental health issues. I would also like to share some of what I have learned through my own experience, in walking through this darkness.

I was officially diagnosed late last year, but I believe that I have struggled with PTSD for approximately three years now. I have also struggled off and on with depression and anxiety during this time and likely earlier in life as well. There are times when depression seems to really take a hold. Unfortunately sometimes, I am not really aware of how much of a hold that it has taken. Other times, I am so aware of the symptoms that I feel lost. Compound this with the issues that are a part of PTSD and you have a recipe for a long trip into darkness. To keep from going too far into that darkness can be a battle, to say the least.

At times when depression has it’s claws in me, I can become blind to how I am dealing with life. I become somewhat disconnected and tend to place priorities in the wrong order. Long ago, I determined that my priorities should look like this: 1. God (my self-care is corner-stoned here), 2. My wife, 3. My children, 4. Other family & friends, 5. Work. Then after these everything else would tend to fall into place. However somewhere along the way, these priorities started to look more like this: 1. Work, 2. My children, 3. My wife, 4. Other family & friends, 5. God. Then after these everything else had been falling apart. My priorities became so out of order, that I was not even registering on the scale and I would end up neglecting self-care. I would tell myself, “I am doing this for others” and “This is what is the best for now”. I would completely disregard what really was best and often missing how it affects life around me. The result of these mixed priorities is a very disjointed and unbalanced life.

Unfortunately, I can be a very stubborn person and at times it takes someone else, usually my wife, to give me a good swift kick in the behind to tell me that I am in the wrong. When this occurs, I basically have two choices in how I respond. One choice is to listen to the concerns being brought to me. The second choice is to try to turn the tables, in an effort to deflect the fault from me. Sadly, that defensive response had been my default setting as of late. Then, when I would attempt to change, I would try to do it on my own. My pride kicks in and says, “You can fix this yourself” and that turns out to be a complete lie. I have learned and continue to learn, that I need the help of those who love & care for me, to come back from the darkness.

For the past few of months, I have been in therapy to heal the PTSD and that has been compounding my depressive symptoms. When I started the therapy, I was told that due to the nature of the type of therapy, that I should expect that. Basically, what they meant was this: I will feel worse, before I feel better. That brought me to a point like I described in the last paragraph. Initially I did react defensively, especially when I was told that I had to listen to how I have been affecting others. During that conversation I gradually came around to see the light and took their hand to help me come back from the darkness. I am not going to sugar coat things and say it has been easy to do this. In fact, it has been very difficult. However, the more I consciously rearrange my priorities to where I need them to be, the more I am seeing the difference that it is making for everyone.

If you are struggling, you are not alone. We are not meant to be solitary and handle these things on our own. We are not weak, because we have asked for help. It is also not shameful to seek professional help, such as a counsellor, or therapist. Please, listen to those who love you and take their hand to help you come back from the darkness.

If you find yourself in a situation, where you don’t have a loved one to reach out a hand, please start by reaching out for help through your agency, or one of the following links:

911 Wellness Foundation:  www.911wellness.com

Ivegotyourback911: www.ivegotyourback911.com

Tema Conter Memorial Trust: www.tema.ca

Under the Shield: www.undertheshield.com

Badge of Life Canada: www.badgeoflifecanada.org

Badge of Life: www.badgeoflife.com

Canadian Mental Health Association: www.cmha.ca

Mental Health America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net

Operational Stress Recovery Program: www.operationalstressrecovery.ca

North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network: www.firefighterveteran.com

Safe Call Now: www.safecallnow.org

 

 

Thank You Emergency Dispatchers!!

D668-2(Photo Credit: PoliceTees.com)

Personally, I went into a career in dispatching to help people. I do not do it for the applause, nor the recognition. However, it is nice to have some of each now and again!

This April 10-16, 2016, is the “National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week”. This second full week of April is set aside each year, to recognize and honor our Dispatchers across the country (U.S. & Canada). So, it is with profound pride that I say “THANK YOU” for all the work that is being done in all 911 centers. Whether, you dispatch for all three services or just one, for a small agency & have only dispatch partner, or in a large center with numerous partners on the floor, you are appreciated!!!

Without naming my agency or center (as you know who you are), I would especially like to thank my coworkers and our management team! I personally think that I work with the best in the business (I am a little bit biased though)!! The professionalism that is shown on a daily basis is amazing, not to mention the teamwork here. Our management is also very supportive of our team, ensuring not only open communication, but they are also concerned with our mental well being.

I encourage all of our Police officers, Medics & Firefighters to make a visit to your comm. center to show the dispatchers your appreciation. We are all one big family that does “battle” together in some of the most stressful situations. Don’t forget the Thin Gold Line, “The Golden Glue that holds it all together”!

Thin Gold Line

(Photo Credit: Families of the RCMP for PTSD Awareness)

APCO International National Public Safety Telecommunicator’s Week

Forgot the Chocolates

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One Valentine’s day, around 0130 hrs, I took a call from a female reporting that an unknown male was knocking on her door. As I was gathering info, the male had walked away. So, I continued with my questions and asked for a description & a direction of travel. The caller proceeded to tell me that the subject had stopped at the doghouse, and I thought she said “sleeping ON it”. At first, all I could think of was Snoopy and how he would sleep on the peak of his doghouse. I then asked her to confirm and she actually said “sleeping IN it”. I finished with the info, trying my hardest not to laugh and sent it to the dispatcher.

The dispatcher that it went to was one of our newer trainees, that had recently finished her coaching. Of course, she started to giggle when she read the file. As I listened to her attempting to dispatch, she had to keep pausing. Finally she got out the dispatch, let go of the channel and started to laugh. This of course caught the attention of the rest of our partners in the room.

After the laughing had subsided some, we asked her to play back the recording of the dispatch. Listening to it, we understood why she had such a difficult time getting it out. After the initial, “Caller is reporting an unknown intox male at her door, now sleeping in the doghouse”, nearly all of the officers chimed in with some answer or another. It started with “Oh, this is gonna be good”, to various other responses including, “Dispatch, did you say sleeping IN the dog house?” and finished with another saying “Well, it is Valentine’s Day, maybe he forgot the chocolates”

This call completely made our night, and we all had a good laugh. In fact this call made our whole set!

Dispatch Monkey