A flyer stuck to our front door was a “hear ye” to bang pots and pans, ring bells, trombone the slide whistle, or do whatever it took to make a loud noise from the driveway. The scheduled two-minute event was heralded in honor of our first responders.
Stickers of ambulances, police vehicles, and fire trucks decorated the flyer in a sort of heart shape around the announcement. All very nice, but with one major oversight. There were no stickers of headsets or radios, signifying the vital human connection between the public and emergency services.
This connection—emergency dispatchers—are, as they say, the unsung heroes of crisis response. They are the force under the headsets and on radios answering calls, gathering information, and sending the most appropriate equipment and personnel for the situation. They are the masters at hearing more than what they are told over the phone and coordinating each subsequent step while keeping control of their emotions and those of the terrified, confused, and overwhelmed callers.
They take call after call while their home might be in the path of the tornado or wildfire keeping their lines ringing. During the California wildfires, they listened to the pleading of callers trapped in their homes or fleeing through burning neighborhoods. In some cases, the emergency dispatcher’s voice might have been the last voice the caller ever heard. The person under the headset may never know. Outcomes of a crisis are a rare delicacy of communications.
Why bring this up now? Because despite the perils of COVID-19 exposure, emergency dispatchers set aside personal misgivings. The women and men of the profession report to work, take their seat at the consoles, and maintain their cool while the pandemic threatens and devastates their communities. They answer calls, coordinate the actions of emergency services along the chain of response, and go home knowing their immunity from crisis is no different than anybody else’s. Seldom do they hear thank you.
When the next flyer comes to the door, my family will take to the driveway, pots and pans, bells, and whistles sounding the praise of emergency dispatchers who are always there from the start.
Audrey Fraizer is managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Dispatch, International Academies of Emergency Dispatch.