This week I’ve had the privilege of spending time listening to 911 Professionals in Kansas and Wisconsin as we’ve explored their exposure to traumatic events–and how to boost resilience and preserve their quality of life in the face of these stressors. And once again I have been powerfully struck by 911Pros’ resilience, and by the enormous demands their work places on their shoulders.
Yet, to most Americans, even those who have personally been rescued in their worst moments by The Very First Responder, focus on the 911 professional fades into the background as the field responders arrive on scene. I am not stroking the proverbial violin inviting others to grab a fiddle for the Poor Me Concerto here. (But there is a symphony playing in the background of this message. So keep listening.) It is so understandable that an invisible responder who passes the torch to those on scene will be forgotten by the citizen whose vision is then filled with the officers, firefighters or paramedics who come to the rescue in full living color. This is as it should be; yet it provides an explanation for how difficult it is for the public to grasp and sustain an awareness of the toll that 911 work takes on the emergency dispatcher–and to wonder what should be done to protect their health and retain them on our 911 workforces.
National 911 Telecommunicators Week (NTW) is an opportunity for all of us to pause, consider the invaluable role these professionals have in our lives, to wonder about the skills and emotional costs required to do this job, and to imagine what it would be like if we sat in their HotSeats managing our most tragic calls.
This NTW, why not consider calling your local police, sheriff or 911 agency’s non-emergency line to say thank you to your local 911 professionals? This special week can also serve as a time for 911 frontliners and supervisors to affirm their appreciation of each other–including the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) Quality Assurance staffers who must listen repeatedly to the worst calls as a “routine” part of their jobs. Can you say Vicarious Traumatization?
Yet, credit and gratitude are also due to the 911 communication center managers and directors who are expected to go in umpteen directions seamlessly serving all parties within and beyond the PSAP. Picture the 911 leader as the classic Gumby toy with both rubber arms stretched long by the essential requests of their dispatchers, governing board members, other emergency response agencies, and by the demands of media during those worst events.
When all is said and done, the work that all members of our 911 centers do to produce consistently excellent 24/7/365 response is nothing short of extraordinary. Have you ever marveled at a great symphony orchestra whose many members can draw unified sound from a hundred instruments, translating written notes into remarkable harmonies and melody? If we then reflect on our 911 “system” we can see a parallel: The notable difference is that the Orchestra performs under ideal conditions for our pleasure for a few hours while 911 professionals offer up typically seamless and constant intervention that helps save lives every day of the year.
Finally, if we are to connect all the dots in this constellation of players in the 911 Response Family, we will also salute the National 911 Program Office, the state chapters and headquarters’ staffs of APCO–the Association of Public-safety Communication Officials, and NENA–the National Emergency Number Association, the IAED–the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, and the many quality “vendors” who serve the industry. Together these 911 stakeholders work hard to equip our local 911 professionals for best practice through their leadership, development of educational resources, standards, emergency response protocols, support services, and state-of-the-art technologies.
Thank you all for your service to our country. We owe more than we realize to you! And we pledge to uphold your health and quality of life the best we can in the next year!
For the Board of Directors, 911 Wellness Foundation http://www.911Wellness.com
NOTE: permission to republish this article is granted without restriction by the author