********************I thought maybe I'd try writing a post with a sort of "pay it forward" twist to it and to that end I am asking the help of everyone that reads this blog to help bring it to fruition. I figure if I tell ten people and then they in turn tell ten people and then those ten people tell another ten people and so on and so on that this has the potential to affect a lot more people than just the small group that I could reach myself. This is a good chance to test the power of the blog and see where this goes!
First a little background and history: Each year, the second full week of April is dedicated to the men and women who serve as public safety telecommunicators and was officially designated as "National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week" by Congress in 1991. The idea was first conceived by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office in 1981 and was observed strictly at that agency for three years before APCO (the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials) became involved in the mid-1980's and eventually took the idea to Congress seeking a formal proclamation.
Even though there have been Presidential Proclamations recognizing the week and the work of the people to whom it is dedicated, it is still not very widely known or recognized and even very few public safety agencies celebrate or acknowledge it. It's really too bad because public safety dispatchers and call-takers are those people who work tirelessly behind the scenes for their communities with very little recognition or thanks and yet provide a very valuable service upon which the entire public safety concept hinges.
When people pick up the phone and call 911 they aren't thinking about the person who answers the phone and what their role is in getting them the help that they have called for. The person who answers the phone and/or sends the cops or firefighters or medical personnel are simply a means to an end and are forgotten as quickly as the phone is hung up. The real "heroes" are the people who arrive on-scene and take care of whatever it was that the caller needed addressed. But how would those "heroes" know to get there unless there was someone to tell them to go there and what they were going for?
To be honest, I don't expect a lot of thanks in my job but when someone does say "thank you very much" before hanging up, I am thrilled. And I'm sure that all of my fellow dispatchers and emergency call-takers out there feel the same way. Just like anyone else, we like to know that our help was appreciated or that we could help in a time of need or crisis. Just like the people who arrive on-scene, we are generally very well trained in our jobs and that includes so much more than just answering the phone and getting an address and maybe a name and phone number.
I don't know the requirements for all States but in my home State of Connecticut those people who enter the field of public safety communications are required to attend a two-week course with the State Department of Public Safety and be certified as public safety telecommunicators or else they can't do the job. It's a tough course with a lot crammed into it and it's not that unusual for people to fail the test on the first try.
In addition to that, most departments have their own training requirements and standards. For example, as an emergency medical dispatcher at American Ambulance, I am also required to maintain certification through the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch and must renew that certification every two years as well as complete regular continuing dispatch education. There's a lot more to it than just sitting behind a microphone and sending cars on calls in between filing my nails and doing the daily crossword puzzle (oh boy don't I wish I had time for that!).
As I have said in previous posts, those of us who choose dispatching as a career do so knowing that it is the most stressful career out there second only to air traffic controllers. We don't do it for the cushy hours, the great pay, or the fame and fortune it will bring us - we do it because we have a calling and because we know that we can make a difference.
But that doesn't mean that we wouldn't mind hearing "thank you" every great once in awhile and what better time to do that than during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week? I'm not asking people to send cards, flowers, or home baked cookies to their local dispatch centers (though I'm sure they wouldn't be turned down!) but to just perhaps pick up the phone and tell a dispatcher or 911 call-taker that you appreciate what they do and that maybe you sleep a little better at night knowing that they and their co-workers are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year just in case something happens and you need help.
If you want to go over and above that, I will not say nay! Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, send a card to the dispatch center so that all can see it, or do anything else within reason that shows your appreciation for those "everyday heroes" who wear headsets instead of helmets (a firefighter reference there in case I confused you!)
Oh, and just as a disclaimer here, I'm not doing this for myself but for all of my fellow dispatchers and call-takers out there. I am very fortunate in that I work for a company that does, in fact, recognize National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week and also work with some of the best Paramedics, EMTs, and Chaircar Van Drivers in the industry who regularly tell me how much they appreciate me (something I never tire of hearing!) even via comments on MySpace page. Do this for the dispatchers who aren't so lucky and I'm sure that you will make their day - maybe even their month - because a small thank you really does go a long ways.
Now, if it's not asking too much, I would ask my fellow bloggers to pass this message on and by doing so perhaps other bloggers will also pick it up and post it. This won't be anywhere near as big as the Blogblast for Peace that I posted about on Saturday but who knows how many people it might actually reach and just think how many people's days you could make by this one simple act.
Thank you in advance for you anticipated participation and help!