Running On Fumes… The 9-1-1 Dispatcher

By Samantha Smith – Armor Up West Virginia

The amount of stress a 911 dispatcher faces each and every shift, day after day will eventually start taking a toll.  Yes, stress is a part of life.  While most people deal with everyday life stress such as car problems, family schedules, house repairs, our 911 dispatchers deal with that and so very much more. There are times your stress will carry over for a 911 dispatcher for assistance.

Time is of the essence.  You are calming people down during their storm or worst times of their life.  You are making split second decisions, which can literally be life or death for that person.  Imagine taking a call for a burglary in progress or a child that isn’t breathing.  At that very same time, you are asking questions and giving instructions, entering that call in for the correct responders AND you are handling radio traffic of various frequencies on multiple monitors possibly for a completely different set of first responders.  You are responsible for getting the address correct, name, number and details about the suspect or instructions for CPR.  You have first responders on the other end of your radio who need you. You are adding notes to the traffic stop or marking an ambulance on scene.  You are literally doing what feels like 100 things at the same time.

Now you hang up the phone to do it all over again, for 12 hours or sometimes 16 hours.  You never know what emergency will be on the other end of the line.  You never know when an officer will need assistance for a fight, additional units for a pursuit or yell officer down.  The unknown is always there. This stress can leave lasting impressions.  It made it harder for my mind to slow down to sleep or kept me on edge.  Falling asleep once home, would take longer and longer.  Sleep was becoming less and less.  You are hearing first hand traumatic events unfold.

Personally when I get stressed or a call would make me emotional, I would snack a lot or eat nothing all day.  This started making my weight go up and down.  My stomach would stay in knots or I would keep replaying the call in my mind trying to figure out if I could have done more.  I stayed stressed.  To everyone at the 911 center, it was “normal.”  The best way for myself to combat the stress, I tried to relax before laying down to sleep.  Sometimes a hot shower or bath to soak in would do the trick. Reading a book would take me to a totally different world.  The biggest thing that helped myself was working out.

You have to find what works for you and your stress levels.  There are so many different kinds of stress that can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally.  It’s hard to take care of others and their emergencies if you’re running on fumes.

If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:

Safe Call Now:  24 Hour Confidential Hotline:  206-459-3020

For more information on the First Responders program:  Click here

Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008