Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Remember to laugh!!

I was recently reminded by a very wise man, my father, to never forget to laugh. I don't remember many of my calls during the last 11 years I have worked as a dispatcher. However, I have dug up a few for you to share! We in the biz, have a distorted sense of what is funny, so I hope you find these stories as funny as I do!

Some of these stories are my own and some have been shared by friends of mine that work with me either as a dispatcher or police officer.

Potato Chip Domestic--
     The earliest memory of a call I took is what I lovingly call my potato chip domestic. It was the late hours of the evening when a female called 911. The female was an older lady and was extremely irate! She was ANGRY! She was somewhat uncooperative and kept yelling that she wanted her son removed from her home. I had a hard time getting her to calm down, but finally started getting the information I needed to get her help. It came out that she and her son had been physically fighting because .. are you ready for it? .... He ate last of her potato chips! The way this lady was going off, you would have thought that he had killed someone. I was just dumbfounded. They were physically fighting over a bag of potato chips! I'm still a little speechless!

Gun smoke--
     Several years ago I was working one of our police channels. The city police force was fairly new and had a lot of young, new to the job, officers. There was one officer that always gave me a laugh. Unfortunately, it was usually at his expense. This one young officer was from somewhere back in North Carolina. He had a very strong southern accent that often made it difficult to understand him. One evening as we working away, a call came in for shots fired in the area. There was nothing seen, just heard. This particular city is very close to some mountains and it was not unusual for naughty hunters to go in to the hills to shoot Bambi's dad. In the dispatch environment, we always treat every call as a "good" call until proven otherwise. I sent this particular officer and a couple of others to the general area to see if there were, in fact, a problem.
    As Officer North Carolina came in to the area, he exited his vehicle to see if he could hear anything.Now remember, this officer had a very strong southern accent and what he said next has stuck with me for years!

         "Diiispatch, I smell GUuuUUNSmOoke!"
Now, imagine that with the long drawn out twang and you will understand why it was so funny!

      As I was on my way into work one day, I noticed someone dressed up in a Chik-Fil-A costume standing on the corner of a busy intersection waving at passing motorists. A new restaurant had just opened nearby and they were doing a little advertising. I didn't think much of it as I made my way to our dispatch center. About an hour later, I received an assault in progress that happened to be in the same location. The call taker was sitting near me and told me to "enjoy that one!". I pulled up the details in the call and started the responding units. Here's the basics of the call...

     5P??, 5P?? copy a simple assault just occurred
     Go ahead
     ????? S Bangerter ... A (unkey), A (unkey and trying desperately not to laugh over the air) .. You are responding on someone dressed up in a gorilla costume beating up the Chik-Fil-A Cow.
     *** silence **** 
     *** obviously laughing **** 5P??, 5P?? copy
I found out later that the entire PD was laughing hysterically. The chief had to listen to it and requested the tape to play in training later that week. One call that I will never forget!

Often times in our line of work, we focus only on the negative, Today I would like to pass on the wonderful advice my father recently gave me. "Never forget to laugh. It makes the day brighter. It makes the love you find warmer, and the road often travelled have less bumps!"


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Be the pack!

     "When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.        Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths".
          Lord Eddard Stark - A Game of Thrones

These words are never more true in the dispatch environment. We all have very strong Type A personalities. We like to do things ourselves, we work well alone. We are perfectionists. We can be impatient. We are competitive. We can be nit-picky and we can squabble with the best of them.

Though these traits are very true for most of us, we are the most compassionate and loving of individuals. We are the first to help out a friend when they need it. We always have each others backs when we need it.

As you sit next to your co-worker in the days to come, when the calls are constantly coming in with no end in site, there is that one call or radio traffic that makes your heart race and fall to the pit of your stomach, or you are just having a bad day, be a member of the pack and not the lone wolf. Build each other up. Keep each other warm, protect one another, where you are weak, another is strong. Share your strengths. Be there for one another. It is amazing how far a kind word, an unexpected smile, or a pat on the back saying you handled that well, will go.

Be open to constructive criticism. Strive to learn something new every day. That is what makes our jobs exciting! The frauds, lockouts, and public assists can become tedious, but there is always THAT call that is so far from tedious that it really makes you think. It puts all of your training to work. It is for those callers that we do this! Those moments are what makes this job fun

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

With love to our four legged Officers

I have two black labs that are my joy. They are always there for me when I need a little pick me up. They are A LOT of work, especially my baby girl Mishka. Many of my friends have been blessed with the antics of this little girl. As much as she drives me crazy, she gives me love that is unconditional and nothing compared to that which a human could give. I can only hope that you, my reader, has felt that level of love.

What happens when you have a dog that is your partner. He is your backup. He is your best friend. You spend every waking hour side by side and in most cases, every sleeping moment. He goes to work with you and gets excited each and every time he can hear the whir of your red and blues turn on. He knows it is time to go catch the bad guy.. trust me, I hear through the radio every time his handler keys up his mike. It makes me smile. You can just hear the excitment in that big guys bark and whine. He knows it is time to play!

I am talking about our loved officer, the K-9. The relationship between a Police Officer and his K-9 partner is very unique. They train together for hours and hours so that when it is time to work, they are a team in every sense of the word. They trust each other with their lives.

There are many that consider the use of K-9's unconstitutional, inhumane, or animal cruelty. I tell these people to take a moment and see the good that comes with having these four-legged heroes out on the front lines. Take a moment and see the special relationship and love between a handler and his dog. How many criminals are apprehended with the use of a K-9 instead of deadly force having to be used? How many drugs and firearms have been taken off the street and out of the access of our children because of these wonderful animals?

I'd like to share a story with you of one of our local officers and his very special K-9, Koda.

It was the late evening hours on New Years Day, 2010. Our dispatch agency received a report of a burglary in progress. Officers from several local agencies responded. When they arrived, the three suspects ran on foot. Officers obviously pursued. One of the responding officers was Officer Todd and his K-9 partner, Koda. Koda was out front where he loved to be. He was doing what he was born to do. He was in hot pursuit of the bad guy. As Officer Todd and Koda came around the corner, one of the suspects turned and shot Koda twice. Officers returned fire, killing the suspect. The other two suspects were also caught shortly after. Unfortunately, Officer Koda was killed in the line of duty. There is no doubt that Officer Todd would have been hit if Koda wasn't there. Koda saved his best friends life so that Officer Todd could continue doing what he does best... catching the bad guys. Officer Koda was given a full memorial service with Police Honors. Hundreds of officers from all over the state and as far away as Nevada attended.

So the next time you see a K-9 and his handler, say thank you and remember how wonderful these great animals are. They deserve our love, gratitude, and respect.

RIP Officer Koda ~~ You are loved and missed. You are a true Hero.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Those few words ....

Anyone that has answered the phone as a dispatcher can tell you what word or phrase will usually get their eyes rolling. Come on, admit it! You've done it how many times during your shift today? At least half a dozen, I am sure!

Let's see .. what are my all time top eye-rollers?

1. "There's this black guy that is walking his dog down the street. I think it is suspicious because I've never seen him before". "Uhm Ma'am.. that is your next door neighbor."
2. Fireworks .. 'nuff said!

3. "This isn't an emergency, but .... "

4. My baby daddy/baby momma ..

5. Fireworks!

6. "I don't know my boyfriend/girlfriends last name. I've only been dating them for six months.

7.  "I just watched this guy beat up my friend!"
     "What did they look like?"
     "I don't know, I don't know him!"
     "You saw this person, right?"
     "Okay, how tall were they?"
     "I don't know, I don't know him."
     "What race were they?"
     "I don't know, I don't know them!"
     "Okay, I just want to make sure I understand you. You saw the person that beat up your friend"     
     "Yes". "
     "Okay, Where they white, black, hispanic, pink, purple?" I told you, I don't know the guy."

 ~~Yes, an actual call taken by yours truly! I had bypassed the eye rolling and was going straight to pulling my hair out by the end of the call !!

8. Fireworks!!!!!  (Are you sensing a theme here?)

We all have them .. Feel free to share yours!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I've got your back!

There is nothing quite like the relationship between an officer and his/her dispatcher. We have all heard the stigmas about dispatchers. I assure you that it is an exception and not the rule. We are NOT all badge bunnies!

An officer depends on his/her dispatcher to have their back at all times. There are times when the dispatcher is all the backup an officer has.  The dispatcher is responsible for gathering details and relaying it to their units. However, that is not all they do.

Let's walk through a typical traffic stop. The officer calls out his location and the license plate. The dispatcher enters that information in to the system, runs the plate, and monitors the officer's time out by checking on him every now and then. All of this is done while other officers are doing the same. The dispatcher simultaneously is keeping track of all of this while dispatching calls for service. You get to a point where you have a "running tally" in your head. So and so is here, this needs to be dispatched, that kid needs to be entered into NCIC.. again. I'm not trying to hoot our horns, just saying how it is.

As a dispatcher, you learn your officer's voices. You can hear that different tone when something just isn't right. You can hear what they are saying when they are chasing after a suspect on foot... well, most of the time! You learn to anticipate what an officer may want before they ask for it. You become part of a well oiled machine. There is a definite sense of satisfaction when everything comes together. The bad guy is caught, citizens are safe, and your officers are going home to their families.

As wonderful a feeling as that is, there are more severe feelings when it doesn't go as well. As a dispatcher, I feel solely responsible for every officer on my air. They are MY guys. They are MY kids. I am supposed to make sure they are okay and that they are safe. There are no words more terrifying to a dispatcher than an officer yelling for help, that they are injured, or they have had shots fired. I've had two of these incidents come over the phone, and I have had one on the air. Eleven years as a dispatcher and only three incidents. Far too many, but I thank God there have only been three. During all three incidents, I did what needed to be done. I know I did everything I should have done, but it didn't stop me from going over it and over it in my head. Is there anything I could have done better? Is there anything I should have done differently? All three of these incidents had a profound effect on me, two of them far more than the third. They are incidents I will never forget.

So, who is the backup for the dispatcher? Why, other dispatchers of course!  I thank my lucky stars that I work with some of the most incredible people in the industry. They always have my back. They make notifications so I don't have to. They pull up radios and listen in, just in case there is something they can help with so I never have to take my attention away from the ones I am backup for. They are simply amazing!

It all comes down to a few basic thoughts. I LOVE what I do. I feel honored to work along side the men and women that wear the shield and to be their backup. I am even more honored to work with the men and women that I do. They are the first-first responders. They are heroes.

Have you said Thank You to your dispatcher today? (Doughnuts and a hot cup of coffee work well!) :)

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Hush-Hush word ... "Help"!

Today's topic is one that many of us never want to approach, but it needs to be addressed. That topic is asking for help. We face so many emotions each and every day. We put on our headset, log in to the CAD, and click that little green button that says we are ready. What are we ready for? Is it ever possible to be completely ready for the responsibility our profession insists we take on? The answer is no. However, we do it anyway. We do it with pride, with the grace of a ballet dancer, and the strength of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.

We have all gone to the trainings that talk about dispatch stress and burnout. What is burnout? To put it simply, burnout is that feeling of giving all you can, feeling the steam in the engine is just about gone, and you feel close to cracking. We all have those occassional days where we feel this way. Burnout is when you feel this way all the time.

So, what are the symptoms?

1. Increased feelings of anger and resentment towards co-workers and supervisors without a rational cause.

2. Lack of appetite or even a marked increase in appetite (Either you're not hungry and haven't eaten for a while or you're eating even when you're not hungry).

3. Prolonged bouts of insomnia lasting more than a week in succession. Everyone has trouble sleeping once in a while. If it is unusual for you, then pay attention to it.

4. Physical problems like stomach aches, constipation, headaches, chest pains (Note: Chest pain is always a cause for medical attention. However, not all occurrences of chest pain indicate a heart attack. Chest pain can sometimes be a signal of temporary sustained rise of blood pressure due to stress. Either way it's a strong signal that your engine is over-revving).

5. Feelings of worthlessness, listlessness or an attitude of "What does it matter anyway?"

6. Feelings of being overwhelmed. You feel like you're being surrounded by life and it's events.

7. Forgetfulness - Not just losing your car keys, but forgetting important appointments, promises, tasks, or meetings.

8. Incidents where you lose your composure or lack of control of your emotions. What dispatchers call a "composure-failure". Some examples are: Being rude to complainants, officers, banging the keys on the keyboard, verbal outburst, etc.

9. Prolonged depression. This isn't just being sad, but a marked sadness. Everybody gets sad once in a while, but when it last for more than a week this could be signal.

10. Inability to concentrate or focus on familiar tasks. Even those simple Teletype entries feel like the first time that you did them!

Is there anything that can be done about it? ABSOLUTELY!

Mke sure you get adequate exercise, (I need to work on this one!). Eat adequate, well balanced meals, (I'm doing better), cut back on junk food and caffeine, (uhm.. coffee? Not a chance!)

Learn to take it easy. Many of us have Type A personalities. This type of personality is a perfectionist and we expect the very best of ourselves. Instead, try just being a little better each day. Stop driving yourself crazy. Let go of the little things. 

Whatever schedule you have, try and get as much rest as you can. Our bodies need proper rest to allow them to repair itself and strengthen itself for new demands placed on it.

Learn to breathe properly. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth using your diaphragm.. Make sure you are taking slow deep breaths. This is a great way to de-stress anytime you feel the need. Even a few minutes of this is very rejuvenating.

Take time off whether it be a vacation or just simply taking your breaks away from the dispatch floor. This is a perfect time to get in that walk or try some breathing exercises. 

Last, but certainly not least .. ask for help if you need it. Many employers offer some type of an employee assistance program. Take advantage of it. Check to see if your medical insurance covers counseling. If you have a critical incident, talk when you need to. If your agency offers debriefings, I strongly encourage you to attend. I have had the opportunity to attend two during my years and I left each incident feeling better.. stronger. Know that you are not alone. We have all had similar circumstances. Talk to your co-workers and if you notice someone struggling, reach out to them. Let them know you are there to help if they need it.

We are all here for each other ... hand in hand.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Special Delivery

I am often asked about my job and the types of calls I get. I have to be honest, I don't remember most of them. However, there are the few exceptions that stay with you forever. There is one such call that I don't think I will ever forget.

It was Christmas day about ten years ago. I was still a call taker at the time and incoming calls were far and few between. My co workers and I were sitting around chatting about Christmas plans later that day. There were the typical morning calls that we all get on holidays, custodial exchange, burglaries, and of course the average familial domestic.

My line rang and I knew immediately by the frantic voice of the male caller that something was wrong. He was excited and obviously scared, but fairly calm. This young man proceeded to tell me that his wife was in labor and there was no way they were going to make it to the hospital that was still at least ten miles away. They decided to pull off the highway and call 911. Her contractions were coming one right after the other and she needed to push. As I started medical and police units to the soon to be parents, I told the dad how to help his wife and baby. After just a couple good pushes, the new baby was born. I listened to hear that first cry and there was nothing. I asked the new father if the baby was breathing. It wasn't. I quickly told him how to breathe for his new baby. It wasn't too much longer that we heard what we were waiting for. That first cry!! What a sound! What an experience! We quickly made sure that mom and their new SON was warm and comfortable. I stayed on the phone with the proud parents until the first medical units arrived.

It was no surprise to hear that the story was picked up later that day by the media. I found out from the news story that the new father was a local officer and EMT. That was a surprise!

It was a great experience that I will never forget!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What is 'The Thin Gold Line'?

'The Thin Gold Line' is a site designed for those professionals that have dedicated their lives, hearts, and souls to being on the other end of a phone or radio when society needs them most. 

 They are the voice that calms the frightened mother who's baby is not breathing. They are the voice that consoles a spouse when the love of their life has passed away. They are there when you hear a bump in the night and something "just isn't right". They are the voice that brings light to some of our darkest times. 


They are often forgotten and often unrecognized for the work they do.They do not do the job for the great pay or convenient work hours, but because they want to make the world a little bit safer for all of us.