For Emergency Use

I am currently working My Very Worst Job. I am a 911 dispatcher and though the job isn’t always all that bad, it has its days. I have a list of my top five worst calls, all of which involve someone (who didn’t even have any kind of life threatening emergency to report) cursing me out and calling me every name in the book (dumb bitch seems to be a favorite), sometimes calling back two or three times in the span of three minutes because they didn’t understand why I couldn’t magically teleport an ambulance to their house (and all of which involve me going into the bathroom and crying afterwards). There have been calls where people would yell at me when I asked them their address and phone number even refusing to give it to me because I’m supposed to have computers and whatnot that tell me all that information and they shouldn’t have to tell me too. I’ve even had people call me, on 911 mind you, asking why they’re stuck in traffic, whether a road was open or closed during storms, asking why they hear sirens a couple blocks away, etc.

I think most of my frustration comes from my co-workers though.

In our office, we have four dispatchers, three supervisors and one head supervisor. The supervisors and head supervisor all hold that title, not because they’re particularly good at dispatching and promoted their way up, but because they have field experience, the belief being that if we have experienced field personnel dispatching, then they’ll be better able to understand what’s going on and to augment dispatches accordingly. The problem is, coming into dispatch is a minimum two year commitment and it’s a good way to promote so we never get anyone who sticks around much longer than two years and it can take a year or more just to get a lot of the basics down. That being said, a general sense of incompetence and mediocrity overwhelms our supervisors. In my four years here, I’ve worked for (and helped train) six different supervisors. Because they do the exact same job as the dispatchers with only minor supervisory work, they all come in with the attitude of “I’m new here and don’t know a lot and even though I’m your supervisor, I’m ready and willing to learn from you and treat you as an equal.” That quickly morphs however into “I AM YOUR KING/QUEEN. YOU WILL BOW DOWN TO ME!”

Even though dispatchers are required to type a certain word-per-minute and have a basic understanding of computers, our supervisors have no such requirements. I’ve had supervisors who were so bad with computers, they didn’t even know how to check their email and couldn’t type quickly enough to take down the information during a call, choosing instead to hand write it during the call and enter it into the computer after the caller hung up – causing us to have to call many people back to clarify address information because they didn’t give it correctly or the supervisor wrote it down wrong.

Dealing with the field can be a painful addition to this equation too. I had a firefighter call one time and tell one of my supervisors, C, for about five minutes what a dumb bitch he thought I was and that I needed to cut the attitude because my job was just to answer phones. C thought she was somehow doing me a favor by nodding and going “uh huh…uh huh” during the conversation and not taking it to the head supervisor who, at least, would have thoroughly chewed the firefighter out. After crying for two hours about it, another dispatcher brought this to her attention and then C started crying and getting all wishy washy about it (she was notorious for that). She then got even more upset when she asked me for a hug to “make it better” and I told her no. I told her she didn’t even have any right to be upset about the whole thing, I did, and I certainly wasn’t going to make her feel better about the whole thing.

Comments (28)

TheRestOfTheStorySeptember 8th, 2010 at 10:09 am

I can’t believe C cried for two hours after that. Couldn’t she have called 911?

JessicaSeptember 8th, 2010 at 10:12 am

I read it as the OP cried for 2 hours, then C found out and started crying too. Either way, there is WAY too much crying at a place trained to deal with real life emergencies.

AndrewSeptember 8th, 2010 at 10:41 am

That place sounds like the pinnacle of maturity.

mystic_eye_cdaSeptember 8th, 2010 at 10:49 am

Anyone else deeply afraid of calling 911 now?

I’m not saying I’ve never cried on the job, like a lot of women I have that “crying response” when I get really angry (also dentists do it to me, so you can imagine the joy of having to get into a screaming match with my kid’s dentist but I digress).

However I have never gone into a bathroom and cried. I have walked out side for a “smoke break” when I’m angry (I don’t smoke so if queried I tell people its to “prevent smoke pouring from my ears”)

If dealing with angry, scared, unreasonable people calling you names makes you have to take a 15 minute break maybe 911 dispatcher isn’t the job for you!

;kjasdfhg;akjsdhSeptember 8th, 2010 at 11:18 am

is she a WHAAAA-mbulance dispatcher? Sounds like she needs one.

MeshellSeptember 8th, 2010 at 11:43 am

Mystic Eye, was the firefighter tearing her up and down scared or just looking to abuse someone?

Personally, I would find taking 911 calls horrible if I was poorly managed and the dispatcher system supported a high turn over rate. Pretty frustrating, if you ask me.

TanekSeptember 8th, 2010 at 11:48 am

I’m gonna be called a troll again, but this is my opinion after reading this:

Coming into a new position as a supervisor is extremely challenging because you need to learn the position from those that have more experience, but still maintain an authoratative stance because you’re the supervisor. What happens way too often is that the subordinates think that they are on equal level with a supervisor because they helped show the supervisor the ropes. Unfortunately in the world of management, that is simply not the case and that it is important that there is a firm management structure in place (I would imagine even especially so for 911 calls). From reading this, I think the OP had a hard time seperating those levels of management because she felt entitled to be on the same level as her supervisor.

If you are someone that gets upset easily, I don’t think that 911 operator is the right place to be. It’s a position with really boring periods of time followed by a dramatic adrenalline 5-10 minutes.

I think your supervisor was probably doing you a favor not taking the firefighter’s complaint to the head manager. That’s a firefighter, not just a normal citizen caller, so my guess is that the weight of his statements will be taken with a lot more credit.

“After crying for two hours about it, another dispatcher brought this to her attention and then C started crying and getting all wishy washy about it (she was notorious for that). ”
–I’m just unclear on this. How come you have the right to sit on the job crying for two hours, but your supervisor is not allowed to get upset about anything? Maybe she started crying too because she was exhausted from doing your job while you were in the bathroom crying every day.

Also, for a job that you worked for FOUR years, this doesn’t seem half bad: one complaint from a firefighter, a few name callings, some non-emergency calls, only a handful of new supervisors…

Gwen_September 8th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

well, my first thought was that: If people are calling you asking for a traffic report, why not inform them that calling 911 for a non-emergency is against the law, and that you’re filing a police report? Because I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.

My second thought was: why are you in a high stress job if you can’t handle stress? I would never be able to handle dispatch work because I know when angry or upset, I burst into tears i.e. no high-stress jobs for me!

Third: Why in the WORLD is there 3 supervisors for 4 employees?! That’s over doing it I would say.

The final thing I’m going to say is this: If you hate the job so much, why are you still there after FOUR years? Leave already!

TessSeptember 8th, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I’m guessing that it’s one supervisor covering each shift round the clock. One for day shift, one for swing and one for grave.

JeannieSeptember 8th, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Yeah, you should probably quit that job, OP. It sounds like a very stressful job and it doesn’t seem like you’re cut out for that. I worked as a waitress for a while and I cried once after getting yelled at and having a man threaten to complain to my boss (during my first week alone!) After that, I learned to toughen up. I worked in a retirement home so I served the same people every day; the mean ones didn’t get any better and I still got yelled at (not to mention a resident went on for about 10 minutes about how ugly I was), but I learned that each day was a new day and I had to let it go.

If you are unable to let things roll of your back, then you need to find another job ASAP. Too much stress is not good for you. My rule is that if you wake up each day dreading work – I mean, seriously DREADING it – you probably should start looking for another job.

Good luck, OP.

bleahSeptember 8th, 2010 at 9:05 pm

My sympathies. I once applied for a 911 dispatcher job and now am glad I didn’t get picked! They work 12 hour shifts, at least that’s what my interviewer said, and have nothihng to do but deal with ignorant people. I remember once they made me sit through with a dispatcher to get a feel for what they do, and the lady took a call where an old man was choking. They have these little bookelts to read off cpr instructions while the ambulance is coming, and the dispatcher said, “bare his chest” and the caller is like, “WHAT?” over and over finally the dispatcher said, “Undo his shirt or take it off!” but it was too late, the old man died. The lady was so upset that she went to cry for a while in the bathroom. I’m not a weepy person, but yeah, I’m glad I didn’t get picked. THey have high turnover rate. Not a good sign.

CinodaSeptember 9th, 2010 at 12:29 am

I have a feeling that the OP just had a bad day. I would hope that No One would ever stay at MVWJ for four years!? And please, grow a thicker skin for your own sake especially if you are going to stay at this job.

AndrewSeptember 9th, 2010 at 8:29 am

@bleah, that story is so sad…

Happy morning, everyone!

ClaireSeptember 9th, 2010 at 8:48 am

I second that this doesn’t seem to be the job for you. It’s kind of like with retail – some people don’t understand what your job is and they’ll get mad at you for not doing the job they think you do. If you’re getting so stressed about these twatbags, then you should probably move on. Is this just a step to a different job you want? In that case, I would say maybe you should consider sticking it out – but it just doesn’t sound like the right field for you.

As far as you standing up to your supervisor – your supervisor NEVER NEEDS a hug. Sorry. It’s completely inappropriate for that person to ask that of a subordinate, regardless of the circumstances. And as far as this organization, it doesn’t sound as strictly hierarchical as some commenters are trying to suggest, so honestly, I think your criticisms are fine.

JChiefSeptember 9th, 2010 at 11:52 am

FFS people, cut the girl a break.

This is an extremely stressful job for ANY person – not just the thin-skinned. I’ve worked as a dispatcher, too, and you get to see the absolute worst (and sometimes the best) of people.

I have a tremendous amount of respect towards dispatchers and first-responders. You would not believe the amount of nonsense that they have to put up with. Truly noble experiences is only a fraction of the job. Most of the time, they are completely wasting time with lunatics and idiots. And hardly anyone ever bother to thank them.

MandieSeptember 9th, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I’m a trained EMT.

I cry when people scream at me or call me hurtful things. I’m terrified of spiders, I get woozy on elevators, and I’m very shy around people I don’t know.

And then I turn around and slide an ET-tube down the throat of an unconscious person who has lost their airway, stick a needle in their arm, put a needle straight into the bone of a pediatric patient who needs fluids immediately, and send a massive jolt of electricity through the chest of a patient whose heart has stopped working.


Having a thin skin in one area doesn’t mean she can’t easily handle a high-stress call where lives are at stake. Sounds like the workplace bites, I’d personally try to find a new dispatch office unless there’s some special reason you’re really attached to this one. I can’t stand supervisors who don’t understand that they don’t HAVE to act like The Supreme Asshole Ruler of District Six — I’m more inclined to do as I’m asked when I’m ASKED, and particularly when I’m ASKED by someone who treats me like a person with the ability to think and reason.

garbagetruckSeptember 9th, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I would shoot myself I was going to cry over every comment someone made about me. How old are you? How can you deal with emergencies if all you seem to do is cry? Work at a salon or a clothing store.

Call 911September 9th, 2010 at 11:53 pm

You know what I find extremely hilarious in all of this? The fact that anyone who has actually worked a public service job agrees with me (or at least understands where I’m coming from) and the rest of you (who have absolutely no clue what this job is like) are calling me a thin-skinned whiner and seem to think you’re proffering amazing advice by telling me “maybe this job just isn’t for you”, LOL!

For anyone to compare public service (dispatching, EMS, firefighter, police) to any other career out there is laughable because they are so vastly different it doesn’t even compute. In any other job out there, you have SOME kind of recourse for unruly, rude, vicious customers (the right to refuse service), but for dispatching, you’ve got nothing – you are essentially a glorified whipping boy. Whenever someone calls me, especially on an emergency line, they can treat me like garbage and say whatever they want to me and there is nothing I can do about it. As long as they have a legitimate emergency to report, I have to sit there and listen to the insults, listen to the screaming, and put up with every single dirty, foul, derogatory thing they have to say to me because if I don’t then I can get written up, fired, or SUED…and 99% of the time, the person suing the dispatcher wins. Why? Because the public at large are selfish, whiny little bastards who seem to think that because I’m a civil service employee, they have the RIGHT to treat me like garbage. I can’t tell them to be nicer, I can’t tell them they can’t speak to me that way, I can’t even tell them to be quiet…the best I can do is to tell them to be calm so that I can find out what is wrong.

The other half of the job is dealing with the notion that you are sometimes speaking to people who are about to die – I have, on a number of occasions, been the last person that someone has spoken to before they died. It’s an awful experience and something that is very hard to deal with, especially when it involves a child, and I don’t give a crap who you are or how thick your skin is, if you have a heart and a soul it will ALWAYS get to you! And they day it stops getting to you? Go find another job.

As for the people giving me crap for crying – it’s an emotional response to a situation in which every ounce of adrenaline your body could possibly produce at that moment is rushing into you and you have to do SOMETHING with it. I can’t yell at someone calling 911 just because they’re yelling at me, I can’t hangup and walk outside for a “smoke break”, and if I’m busy, I can’t even walk into the bathroom or kitchen…you HAVE to have a release, you HAVE to get it out of your system and sometimes a damn good cry does that. I haven’t worked with a single person in my four years here (male or female) that HASN’T cried after at least one call. Again, your ignorance of the job is evident in thinking that all dispatchers are apparently emotionless robots.

Meshell – your assessment was correct. The firefighter was pissed about something he THOUGHT I’d done the previous night and was looking for any excuse to abuse me because he was mad and decided to throw an incredibly unprofessional and highly offensive hissy fit at my expense. You are also correct that it is an awful experience working in a poorly managed dispatch office…that was partially what I was trying to get across but much of what I wrote was edited out and didn’t come across clearly. In fact much of what was kept was what I wrote in an attempt just to give the reader an IDEA of what I do because it is not a common job that people can easily relate to.

Tanek – I’m not even going to touch what you have to say because while I often appreciate your ability to play a bit of the devil’s advocate, I also think you’re a bit of a prick that likes to proffer a big opinion after seeing very little of the picture. Though I will say that when I did have my cry after the firefighter issue, it was after my supervisor had already left and I was by myself. I didn’t force anyone to sit out and do my job while I sat in the bathroom. But I don’t expect you to have a clue what you’re talking about seeing as how you don’t really know what’s going on and you don’t know what it’s like to be a 911 dispatcher. Good try though.

Lizzie MeyersSeptember 10th, 2010 at 7:42 am

Wow, defensively insecure too! Charming. [/sarcasm]

really?September 10th, 2010 at 9:22 am

Lemme get this straight. The rest of the world is whiny and selfish and shouldn’t be emotional in times of stress. You can be emotional in times of stress, while sitting on the phone in an airconditined room, safe, secure, not in danger, but not the person with a legitimate emergency that is contacting you. I hope to god I never have to deal with you when my life is on the line, because the last thing I want to do, Princess, is come across as rude.

garbagetruckSeptember 10th, 2010 at 1:22 pm

You just wrote a bunch of paragraphs that don’t really say anything. Yeah, your job is stressful but so are a lot of jobs. Most of us deal with customer abuse. That’s the way it goes. There is no excuse for being so emotional. If your job is that stressful and that taxing on your emotions, find another job. You’ve been there for 4 years and still cannot deal with it? That’s pretty silly.

ESeptember 11th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I suppose this is neither here nor there, since I’m not contributing to whether people do or do not have the right to cry in insert-situation-here, but I will say this: it now makes a lot more sense that, when I had occasion to call 911, the dispatchers called back twice after I hung up for me to repeat my address.

TanekSeptember 11th, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Ha! Meshell you really pissed her off!

Militant Rubber DuckySeptember 12th, 2010 at 9:23 am

I too am a police dispatcher (3 1/2 years). I have cried on my job twice; once when an officer was in an accident and we didn’t think he would make it, and once when I watched a man shoot himself in front of our police department. I waited until my break for both. It is very difficult to explain the level and type of stress we deal with in our field. It’s hard to convey how your stomach drops when a unit doesn’t answer his radio and you do not know where he is. It is terrifying to have a unit hit their 10-24 (officer in danger) button, and you, along with everyone in the dispatch center, has to listen helplessly while he screams out to God, anyone, to help him because he’s just been shot or hit by a car. I can’ tell you how many times I have just stared at my radio during a search for a missing autistic child, willing them to break the silence to say they’ve found him alive and well. We are not robots; when you’re in your darkest hour, we are your strongest advocate, caring and hoping like hell that everything turns out okay, even when all signs point to the opposite.

In the entire police department, we have the highest level of accountability, zero support in regards to supervisors, every little thing we do can be Monday morning quarterbacked, and there are always the people you wish you could have saved. We are well-oiled multitasking machines, but only with the right information. So when I ask someone what city they live in, and they respond with the county or even state (not kidding), it is extremely frustrating because a caller’s general stupidity is keeping me from doing my job. This frustration is only compounded when you add an ignorant, stupid, or lazy boss to the equation. I have never heard of a dispatcher training their supervisor; this isn’t corporate, this is public safety. Your boss needs to know every aspect of dispatch ,because they are held accountable to state and federal agencies for everything that happens there. I have learned to let a lot of things roll of my back, but it doesn’t stop me from needing to blow off steam; our jobs are constant states of stress (not long bouts of boredom punctuated by small intervals of stress as someone above stated), and if we don’t find a release somehow, we will succumb to it :heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, even suicide. I suggest a good hard workout regimen, OP, to help burn off the BS, instead of crying at your console. Good luck.

C of MSeptember 13th, 2010 at 7:01 am

Honestly cut the OP some slack. She does not have any easy job. Those who deal with the general public never do. But deal with the public who are A) under probable extreme duress and not thinking clearly and/or B) Dealing with those who are completely arrogant ignorant individuals who expect things to “magically” happen

Then throw in a supervisor who is basically not qualified. Let’s see how all of you will do. I know the OP chose the job but com’on show some compassion people. Remember you can never know what one person is going through until you walk a mile in their shoes

RJSeptember 13th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I can’t believe people call 911 for such dumbass reasons (asking what sirens a few blocks away are about strikes me as the dumbest). I mean I do believe it, it’s just mind boggling.
I’m not sure, but I think where I live there is some kind of criminal charge or more likely a fine for calling 911 for frivolous purposes. Too bad there couldn’t be something similar for treating the dispatcher like crap.

mystic_eyeSeptember 14th, 2010 at 7:08 pm

“I can’t hangup and walk outside for a “smoke break”, and if I’m busy, I can’t even walk into the bathroom or kitchen…”

“(and all of which involve me going into the bathroom and crying afterwards).”

Which one is it?

Are you going off to the bathroom and crying, apparently for hours, and neglecting your job or are you unallowed to leave your post. I get that you can’t walk off in the middle of the call, but last I checked 911 operators can and do transfer calls to another operator if necessary.

If you cry when someone dies, or have PTSD after some stressful situation I would have NO problem at all. But you cried for TWO hours because a firefighter bitched about you for FIVE minutes?! And you supervisor didn’t back you up -waaaaaah. Yeah that’s life.

I’ve been screamed at for a computer system screwing up orders, even though the person who trained me and was part owner had been sitting beside me the whole time checking what I was doing because crap was going wrong. I worked taking orders for a charity lottery where there weren’t enough operators and every single person was on hold for at least an hour before getting through so EVERY single caller screamed at you when you finally got to them -and there was no recourse to management and no point in complaining because there was nothing to be done; 12 hours a day. But as a temp you know how long you’re there and you just deal with it -or you don’t work temp. And trust me you can get through anything for 6 weeks.

And no you don’t fucking get to walk off in the middle of a customer screaming at you as you’re responsible for making sure they don’t steal crap/empty the till. YOu don’t even get to walk off when the creepy guy stalking you shows up. And if all the managers decide to saunter off for break at the same time you may actually be unable to call the cops when someone starts throwing stuff/threatening people if the phones are locked in the office.

Did you see the drive through server who got attacked through the window, had the window broken, etc -that crap happens all the time -and hopefully the 911 operator isn’t too busy crying over some idiot being bitchy to help.

This completely reinforces what I learned talking to the cops at a neighbourhood meeting -don’t call 911, call the cops directly. God willing, you don’t need an ambulance because you can’t call them directly.

I am sure that being a 911 operator is a hard job, and I am sure the stress of it does long term damage to a lot of people, I am sure some never get over it. But your story doesn’t paint that picture at all; it paints you as an entitled bitch who gets weepy every time someone gets the least bit disgruntled. Its entirely possible the problem is editing, in which case you can either explain, or just know that what was presented doesn’t reflect your real story and move on.

ErinShayeSeptember 28th, 2010 at 8:42 pm

I’m also a Comm Officer (911 call-taker and Dispatcher) for a local PD/fire/EMS jurisdiction. 
I’m not sure what kind of training you had, but the training I had was quite intensive, extensive, and honest. They pulled no punches – yes, 99% of people who call 911 have a “legitimate” emergency (medical call, house fire, robbery, etc.), but people will call in to make a noise complaint at 7:30 pm, or because their power/water is out, or even because they won the lottery but had no one else to tell at 3 am (yep, actually happened). Point being – whether we think so or not, when those people are calling us, they are in the throes of what is an emergency to them. Once they connect to us, the emergency is essentially over. I’ve come to find that when under stress, people tend to have one of a few reactions. They  become hysterical, or they shut down completely, or they yell and scream. The important thing to remember is that most of the time, these people wouldn’t be acting this way under normal circumstances. My training officer has actually had people call back days (sometimes hours!) later and apologize for their behavior. And of course, as in life where not everyone is going to like you, not every caller is going to be polite. Unfortunately rude people go with the territory of the job. It’s something that you learn to adapt to. 
As far as your supervisor goes, perhaps you should put in for a shift bid to change shifts and see if you work better with a different Shift Supervisor. I also agree with what was mentioned earlier – compartmentalization is really your friend  when dealing with the kinds of calls that we do for 8, 10, 12 hours a day. It honestly does help to have something to do to release stress and decompress after a shift. I work Graveyards, and I go the the gym when I get off in the mornings. I’ll admit that once in a while, after a hard night with partictularly difficult calls, I’ve been known to have a bit of a cry on the elliptical machine. You might also want to take advantage of any EAP/counselor/therapy benefits that your workplace offers, they can be quite helpful. However, if it’s been 4 years and you’re still this miserable, it’s probably in your best interests to change careers. 
(As an aside to Militant Rubber Duck – you’re right, there’s nothing worse than hearing that Distress tone. Makes your blood turn to ice. I’ve been out in public and heard a cell phone ring that sounds like it and immediately got that stomach-drops-to-the-floor, adrenaline surge.)   

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