Friday, April 15, 2011

The Official Answer is 'NEVER', and other questions that need answering

Many people picture every call that comes in to a 911 center as a dire, life threatening emergency. Don't get me wrong. We have those. All the time. But I'm learning that there are three general categories of calls and radio requests. They are:

  1. Stuff we do in the interest of the general course of justice
  2. The aforementioned dire emergencies
  3. Actions taken for the protection and betterment of people who spit in the face of 'Survival of the Fittest' every day
Now I would say that the first item is probably what we do the most of, the second item is the most challenging/rewarding/thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, and the third thing? Well, you are looking at what that gets you.

Case in Point:
"911, do you have an emergency?"
"Um, yeah. I just got back from a drive, and there was this guy in my yard, and he attacked me, but I defended myself with a baseball bat, now I'm in the house but he's still in the yard acting crazy and I want to know when its OK to shoot him." 
Now, I'm no home defense expert, but I'm pretty sure "When you can shoot him" is NOT  after you've successfully defended yourself by another means, barricaded in the house, called for help, and declared your intentions on a recorded line.

I went through some stages when I started this job. First, you are too overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things to learn to pay much attention to individual calls and situations. You sit very still and watch, and believe me, watching an experienced dispatcher pull all the elements together and coordinate a multi-department response to a fire is fascinating.

Second, you start to notice patterns. Who calls every weekend? Where are the trouble spots? Which police seem to always get those people driving on a suspended license and sketchy plates? I call this the 'holy crap, people are breaking the law ALL OVER THE PLACE' phase. There's a little righteous indignation.

Third, you get a little paranoid. Did the county suddenly tip precipitously into lawlessness just when you started this job? Was it all 'Gosh, Wally, your mom sure makes good pie' before you got here? Of course not. You're just more aware of Stuff That Happens.  Because you don't deal with the 85 people who went to the bar, sang a little karaoke, had a couple of beers, and went home, you only deal with the one who drove on the wrong side of the road, knocked over a couple of telephone poles, flipped the truck, self-extricated, and made the rescue crew chase him through a cornfield. Again.  So you start giving unsolicited mini-lectures on defensive driving. On personal safety. On just saying NO. When you are aware of Stuff That Happens its really easy to start sounding like your own grandmother--full of buzz-killing, querulously-delivered information that no one wants to hear at parties.

The fourth phase is harder to explain. Its just a reconciliation with the fact that people will hurt, people will suffer, people will make poor choices, and despite our best efforts, this will not change. I heard someone say once 'Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden'. I have a keener understanding of what those burdens are these days. In one degree or another we're all lost, all flawed, all disappointed, all searching. If I am to do this job with honest diligence I have to remember that patience and compassion can't be things I turn off when I'm 'off the clock', no matter how infuriating 'other people' can be.

That's not to say there will not be snark. But I snark in love.


Anonymous said...

Oh, please, please, don't lose the snark. That's one of the reasons I married you. ;)

Jaffer said...

Yet more reasons why you are called Angels.

It's definitely not a job for those who'll loose patience ... especially in dealing with the public.

It's also one of the reasons, why I chose a career where I won't have the opportunity to deal with the public.

Except when and if there is a disaster... and I might be pushed to give a press conference on why and what happened...

Anonymous said...

Hahaha. I truely enjoyed reading this. Very funny and so true, the answer should always be never.

Chicken Little said...

responding...Responding...RESPONDING...RESPONDING!!!!!!...RESPONDING G@* D@*$%...

"Dispatch to unit requesting the Almighty"

on scene

You just have to love the black hole of radio-dom.

Shieldmaiden96 said...

UFP: Don't worry. Never gonna happen.

Jaffer: Angels? Not sure I've ever heard that. I've heard us called other things though.

PC: Yep, if they ask, its always gotta be 'never'.

CL: I have great hope that one day some X10 or X20 from some department will suddenly realize, hey, twenty five units are responding at once! Maybe they are too busy to answer me just now!
Until then, huffy repetition will always make us giggle.

Lin said...

Man, I'll bet you have stories. Good stories. Weird-ass stories.

Maybe I don't wanna know.

Glad you are posting again. I wait for that, you know. :)

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

Oh she has some stories...yes, she does. But if she tells you, then she has to kill you. :-)

And she's right about giving out that advice now that's a real downer during dinners etc. :-)

Shieldmaiden96 said...

Lin: Yeah, there are stories. The great unanswered question that hangs between dispatcher and caller is often "And WHY did you think that would be a good idea??"

Lisa: If you knew what goes on in BRADFORD COUNTY, you'd move.
I'm not even kidding.

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

That last graph is brilliant, and quite touching. If I'm ever hurt and in trouble, I hope it's you who shows up to put the bandaid on my boo-boo. Or to stick your finger in the bullet hole.

God, I'm glad you're writing again. You're refreshing.