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Our Week

Author: Randall D. Larson

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Editor's Desk

Date: 2011-04-08
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By Randall D. Larson

With National Public Safety Telecommunications Week being celebrated each April, it’s worth taking a look at the job we’ve been doing.

Multiple millions of 9-1-1 calls have taken place since the Friday morning in February, 1968, when the first one was placed from Haleyville, Alabama. The large percent of them have been handled well both technologically and operationally. The consequences of forty years of developing technology are found in better – if intricately more complicated – tools that we use to receive, locate, and process emergency calls, ensuring the right help arrives at the right place in a timely manner.

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There have been that comparatively small percent of 9-1-1 calls that weren’t handled well, and these have had consequences as well, ranging from the criminal conviction of a Detroit 9-1-1 dispatcher for neglect of duty in failing to send help to a 5-year old boy, assuming his report of mother passed out was nothing more than a prank (his mother died), or the recent resignation of a Pennsylvania 9-1-1 Center manager in the aftermath of a mishandled incident that resulted in an invalid woman’s death and suspension of nine of his dispatchers. Like any component of government affairs, especially emergency response and management, 9-1-1 dispatchers are appropriately held accountable, and consequences will continue to occur in the wake of mistakes even as proactive trainers, managers, quality assurance supervisors, and professional telecommunicators strive to prevent them from occurring.

We all have good days and bad days at the 9-1-1 console. Bad ones like the call my team took last month about a father who accidentally ran over his two-year-old child in the driveway and all the help we sped to the scene was unable to resuscitate the boy, or the day the week prior in which another young child drowned in an outdoor pool while attending a relative’s funeral – tragedy packed upon tragedy. Again we tried to help but were unable to do so despite the best efforts of our 9-1-1 system, and many of us are haunted by these heartbreaking misfortunes which remain part and parcel of our job.

But for each of these disturbing tragedies that we carry with us in our collective emergency services consciousness, there are good days as well. Days like the one when police arrested a local child kidnaper, aided in part by the attentive perception of one of our police dispatchers; days like the night one of my dispatchers stayed on the phone with a (non-phase-II) cellular caller injured in a car crash without a clue where he was for almost an hour until responders finally located him. Days like the one NENA’s Patrick Halley recently described in a very moving article in the March 2008 issue of ENP Magazine, when his father became the recipient of life-saving 9-1-1 services and Halley came to recognize the caring heroism of the Charlottesville/Albemarle County, Virginia dispatchers in a very personal way. Sometimes our rewards are as clearly wrought as this, sometimes they are more vague, more personal; sometimes they are even difficult to see until we really take notice and recognize our own job well done. Sometimes the best value of having a week to devote attention to what we do is to take the time to recognize it for ourselves.

- Originally published in our March, 2008 issue.

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