It starts with a beep and then the call drops in, you answer the line and then the breath is caught in your the chest as you wait. Sometimes there is silence, so you strain to hear, you call out, waiting for some sign that there is someone on the line. You hope it’s just an accidental dial, but your mind goes to the worst case possible, the caller is no longer able to respond. Other times you hear the screams before you can even announce your presence on the line. The shouts are inaudible, but you can hear the children crying, you hear the rustling and banging of a struggle, someone cries into the phone, “please help.”
They need you, so you suppress your own fear, you swallow your panic and you answer calmly, your mind goes on auto-pilot as you work your fingers across the keyboard, switching screens, sending alerts, and getting help. All the while you talk in a calm and assuring voice, telling the caller that help is on the way, listening as the cries grow more desperate, or in some cases weak. Maybe it’s a child, terrified, seeing things that children shouldn’t see. Maybe it’s a mother, holding her dying child, begging for you to save her baby. Sometimes it’s just a gurgle or a moan of someone in their last moments.
Yet you stay, you listen, you comfort. You are the anchor keeping them tied hope until help can arrive. When EMS finally arrives the call disconnects. Quiet except for the pounding in your chest and the shaking breaths. You place your head in your hands and breath, maybe you cry, maybe you pray. You wonder what’s happening now, you hope you did enough, that you worked fast enough, that you were strong enough, that you were enough. You know you aren’t likely to get a follow up on how the situation ended so you try to put it out of your mind so you can focus on the next call. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Some calls stay with you forever.
You are an emergency dispatch communicator and you are the first contact during a crisis. You are an unsung hero, a warrior, and an invaluable member of the emergency response family. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.
It’s National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, please take a moment to thank the amazing men and women who serve so valiantly behind the scenes.