Thursday, March 29, 2012
We've written for years about how critical the role of dispatchers are in
what we do. From the first people dealing with the emergency (well before your
tones go off) to their role in supporting responding and operating companies,
their role is a critical part of any FD's response. In some places unfortunately
they are are under paid, over worked and poorly trained with predictable
results. And in as much as Firefighters may often get frustrated with their
Dispatchers, it's also clear that the importance of Firefighters and Officers
spending time in the dispatcher center (either during
probation, training or regularly) to truly understand the job (vs what you think
you understand) as well as Dispatchers out riding with units for the same
reasons, cannot be overstated. A new study finds that emergency dispatchers who handle 911 calls also
suffer a mental toll, especially when taking distressing calls involving
accidental death and suicide. The new study shows that 911 dispatchers’ indirect
exposure to traumatic events can result in symptoms of PTSD. “Usually research
considers links between disorders and how much emotional distress is experienced
on the scene of a traumatic event,” said study author Dr. Michelle Lilly of
Northern Illinois University in a statement. “However, this is the first study
on emergency dispatchers, who experience the trauma indirectly.”
For the study, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, researchers
questioned 171 emergency dispatchers currently working in 24 U.S. states. The
dispatchers — predominately white women around age 38 with more than 11 years of
dispatching experience — were asked about the types of calls they answer and
their corresponding emotional distress. They participants then rated the types
of calls that caused great distress and were asked to recall the worst call they
About 16% of the calls dispatchers identified as their worst involved the
unexpected injury or death of a child. About 13% were suicidal callers, 10% were
police-officer shootings and another 10% involved the unexpected death of an
adult. The researchers report that the dispatchers experienced a high level of
distress following 32% of potentially traumatic calls and that 3.5% of the
dispatchers reported symptoms severe enough to be classified as PTSD.
Not knowing what happens after calls are dispatched is a significant stressor for dispatchers,
ABC News reports. “We don’t know the end result. We don’t know if they made it.
There is no formal communication back to us,” Monica Gavio, a coordinator for
the Burlington County, New Jersey, 911 communications center.
When we look at the entire "chain of response-from the 9-1-1 call, the call
processing, the dispatching and the radio operations-it's clear that dispatchers
are an integral part of what we do.
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