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What Use Our Work?

Author: Barry Furey

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2013-04-12
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During the past few months I became a fan of a British Series called Ripper Street which documents the comings and goings of a London Police Division in the wake of Jack the Ripper’s crime spree.  There is considerable discord among the elements as to whether Jack has stopped his murderous ways, or if he bears the blame for any new injustices. While sorting through the seemingly endless challenges faced by the constabulary, the inspector questions whether or not he and his staff are actually making a difference.  Hence, the title of the final episode of the season, and of this column; because this question is as valid today as it was in the 1890s…

As April rolls around again, we spend time educating the public about 9-1-1 and honoring our brightest and best employees. But, it seems to me that one thing we rarely do is sit back and take a long hard look at what it is that we really do, because absent of the speeches, proclamations, and news clips lies this measure. And what we really do is pretty darn good.

In my little corner of the world we average about a dozen each of EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatch)-assisted births and cardiac saves every year. The cardiac saves number is actually higher, but internally we only credit those cases where we institute active CPR on a non-responsive victim. Now, there are centers that are larger and smaller than ours, but if you multiply all this by the assumed number of Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) in the United States (about 6,000) you’d get a pretty impressive number of people that we collectively bring into this world – and keep from leaving this world – in any given year. Look at this globally, and then add in the suicides we’ve prevented, the fire and crime victims we’ve kept alive, and the lesser portions of help that we distribute on a daily basis and you’ve got a truly remarkable body of work. All of this coming of course, from a group of people employed in what was recently recognized as one of the “ten most underpaid professions in America.”

Now, it’s really easy for folks in the trenches to miss out on their importance. As I just said, they are generally underpaid for what they are asked to do, and often unrecognized. And when they are recognized, they are not always given the true support they deserve from their co-workers.  In reality, even a doctor can’t diagnose a problem over the phone in ninety seconds or less. But, that is what they are expected to do every day. There are also the little – and sometimes not so little – frustrations of dealing with first responders and the public who may not always be understanding of what it is really like to juggle limited resources to manage a seemingly unlimited number of calls. No, Halle Berry does not work here. And in a world where news is a series of sound bites, there is always the possibility of having your next call being repeated ad nauseam on not only the local stations, but worldwide on YouTube as well. Still, as long as bad calls and not good calls are considered newsworthy, when you think about it, we’re all doing our jobs. And recently, doing our jobs means dealing with more active shooters, hostage takers, and straight-up crazies than ever before.

I don’t know that I can add anything new to the discussion about stressful working conditions, short staffing, and the myriad of other maladies that infect our profession, save to say that in the end each and every one of us makes the world a better place.  And that honor, my friends, doesn’t come with a plaque or a parade. Often, it doesn’t even come with a thank-you. But as long as someone is sick, or hurting, or in trouble, you and your work both have purpose. What good then our work? Why, we’re saving the world, one caller at a time. Have a great Telecommunicators’ Week. You deserve it.

For more on National Public Safety Telecommunicators' Week 2013, click here.

Our PSAP Management columnist Barry Furey has been involved in public safety for more than 40 years, having managed 9-1-1 centers in four states. A life member of APCO International, he is the current director of the Raleigh-Wake County (NC) Emergency Communications Center.  As an independent columnist for 9-1-1 magazine, Barry’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his public safety employer.

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