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Behind the Scenes with #IAM911 - The 9-1-1 Telecommunicators' Movement that's Gone In Service In A Big Way
Author: Randall D. Larson, Editor
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
9-1-1 Magazine Interviews The Dispatcher
The #IAM911 movement began at the end of last August by Ricardo Martinez II, a 9-1-1 dispatcher in Michigan, as an effort on Facebook to assist in the reclassification of public safety telecommunicators from "clerical," where US Government’s Office of Management and Budget’s Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee recently ruled they belong, to "protective," by showing how the intense, specialized training dispatchers/telecommunicators receive and the intensive, life-saving work that they routinely do in their jobs is far, far from the average job description of the clerical classification.
The WithinTheTrenches Podcast, a page for 9-1-1 dispatchers on Facebook, started collecting and displaying short dispatch stories from working telecommunicators all over the US to show how non-clerical their job really is. The Facebook page became a movement, with thousands of stories from dispatchers illustrating the kinds of calls they take, notably the ones that have affected them the most. Their posts have gone viral, attracting the attention of public safety dispatchers in other countries and the support of politicians like California Congresswoman Norma Torres and others who have heard its message.
9-1-1 Magazine interviewed Ricardo (below, right) last weekend to take a look behind the scenes on the objectives of #IAM911, where it’s gone so far, and where it may go in the future.
With Ricardo's permission, we've included some samples and excerpts from some of the #IAM911 stories he's received (NOTE: Some may find these posts disturbing but this is as real as it gets in the day-to-day life of a 9-1-1 telecommunicator. -rdl). Click the images to open them on a new page in larger size.
Q: How did you start WithinTheTrenches and was your objective for the podcast and its FB page?
I dispatched for just over 13 years starting out in Frostproof, FL at a small police department and ended when I moved back home to Michigan and continued my career at Allegan County Central Dispatch. During my time in Allegan I earned an Associate in Web Development, a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design and a Masters in New Media Journalism.
During my graphic design courses I took a class called, “Digital Storytelling.” Our task was to tell a story in still pictures with narrative and music. Around this time, I was beginning to realize that the general public has no idea what 9-1-1 dispatchers do so I wanted my project to give a glimpse into the lives of two people in dispatch. I asked a couple co-workers to assist me and I asked them how they got into dispatching, their best and worst call and why they do what they do.
[Click to watch Ricardo’s Behind the Mic: Stories from the Trenches video on YouTube]
My project was a success and from there I started a blog called The Jabber Log. In this blog I shared many of my personal stories. I wrote about my life and then I began writing about my life in dispatch. I called my written segment, “Within the Trenches.” I shared my stories with the world and people enjoyed reading them. It was also therapeutic for me to get the stories out. During my Master’s program I was introduced to podcasts. I fell in love and I wanted to turn Within the Trenches into a podcast and interview dispatchers to help tell more stories.
I went to Kickstarter and pitched my idea. It was accepted and I began working on a plan to bring this to life. There was about 36 hours left in my campaign and I was not even close to my goal of $1,500. If I didn’t reach it, I was toast. While at work I sent an email to Gary Allen of Dispatch Magazine On-Line. I told him I did not want any money, just a plug on what I was doing. He sent an email back saying that it was a great idea and that he posted something on it. Overnight I reached and surpassed my goal. I will forever be grateful to him.
Once I was up and running my goal was to help tell the stories of 9-1-1 dispatchers everywhere so that the public could understand what we go through on a day-to-day basis. The goal of the Facebook podcast page was to stay in touch with dispatchers, the public, and pro-9-1-1 organizations. I wanted these stories to be as real as possible and because it was therapeutic for me, I felt it might help others to hear stories too. Since its inception it has been an amazing experience.
Q: What sparked the creation of #IAM911 and what did you hope to accomplish?
As you know APCO International initially began a push to reclassify PSTs from the "clerical" class to "protective." Currently the OMB or Office of Management and Budget classifies PSTs under Administrative and Office or "clerical." APCO made a proposal, which was rejected, and they have since asked directors, dispatchers, the public, etc. to submit information to be sent to the OMB to try and change their mind. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) has joined in and is looking for the same hard data. Both organizations are doing what they can but I noticed that within the list of data that is needed was a request for stories or accounts where protocol was used. This is needed to show the difference between PSTs and clerical workers or commercial dispatchers. This is where I came in. I wanted to create a movement that would raise awareness on what 9-1-1 dispatchers do on a daily basis and what they deal with during a call. My hope was to share a few stories and have dispatchers everywhere do the same. It would open the eyes and maybe spread out to the media and go viral.
Q: What led to the idea of dispatchers sharing their stories? How did you begin asking for them?
I have been telling dispatchers stories for a few years now with my blog and podcast so I felt that this would be the best way to get the attention of others but it had to be done right. I decided to share my stories in short form and claiming myself in the story by saying what I heard and in actuality, talking to the caller. For example, my first story that started it all said, “I heard your last breath the night you flipped your four wheeler. #IAM911” By sharing, this gives the reader a short but real glimpse into my call with this person. It also lends credibility to the hashtag by saying, “I AM 9-1-1.”
My first post explained the reclassification issue and that I was starting a movement to assist both APCO and NENA by sharing our stories. I asked for them to do the same and to “Join the movement.” That’s all it took. It exploded from there.
In starting the movement there were no real challenges… I mean, I did think, “What if this goes viral?” Well, when it took off messages were coming into the Facebook podcast page in numbers I can’t even explain. The messages, notifications, comments, etc. were so significant that my Facebook iPhone app stopped sending me them because there were too many to push out.
I started this movement on August 24th 2016 and to date, my team and I are still answering messages and posting stories from August 30th. The numbers are amazing! The amount of people reached from posts from the beginning to date are at 3.44 million. The post engagement numbers that include comments, likes, shares, etc. have hit 35.1 million.
Q: What kind of responses did you get once the movement began to take off – from dispatchers, professionals, APCO/NENA, etc.?
Responses to the movement have been more than I ever thought they would be. Dispatchers have written in saying that they have held in stories for such a long time but this movement has helped them release it and they feel better. Callers have written in and given their side of an #IAM911 story and have thanked the dispatcher who took their call.
Industry partners such as INdigital, Motorola, the 911 Wellness Foundation, dispatch pages, The Cool Kids of 9-1-1, Operation 10-8, Dispatch Monkey, Public Safety Dispatchers and Friends, The Healthy Dispatcher and more have proudly backed the movement as well as multiple verified Twitter pages. There have been inquiries by APCO and NENA but the biggest advocate for the movement, what it stands for and the reclassification issue as a whole, is Congresswoman Norma Torres. She was on [podcast] episode 117 with me and she shared stories from her time as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, the letter she personally sent the OMB and her outlook on the situation.
There have been bloggers, news media and more that have also done stories on the movement. The response has been phenomenal.
Q: You’ve mentioned you’d also received some stories/input from foreign emergency telecommunicators who replaced the 911 in the #IAM911 with their country’s own 3-digit emergency number. How has this affected the movement and what have they told you about their own concerns?
I started receiving messages from dispatchers out of Canada, Britain and Australia telling their own stories. Some are seen as first responders but others are just like us in the US, clerical. The movement was trending on Twitter and stories from #IAM911, #IAM999 and #IAM000 flooded social media. Their contribution pushed the movement to new heights and more people started reading.
Q: Would you describe what you feel has been most successful about the movement so far?
What has been the most successful is how the movement has been embraced by so many people. The stories are very personal and they hit home for all dispatchers and those who called and lived something similar. This drives everyone to share more. We are all healing whether we know it or not.
Q: What do you hope for the future of the #IAM911 movement?
My hope is that the movement continues to shed light on 9-1-1 dispatchers. For so long they have been known as the unsung heroes of public safety but this movement has changed that. The once “most important person you will never see” is out in the spotlight and it’s about damn time.
Q: What will you do with the stories dispatchers the have been sending in? Will they be archived somewhere?
My team and I will continue to share stories. They deserve to be told and it has been therapeutic for 9-1-1 dispatchers to share. I am currently compiling the stories submitted and I will turn them into a book for many more to read. I also want to record #IAM911 stories and share them on the podcast for people to hear. 9-1-1 dispatchers would still be anonymous but by having it come from them, their voice will make it more intimate.
Q: Any final comments about the concept of a grass roots movement like #IAM911?
Like any grass roots movement, it depends on the backing of the people. I started #IAM911 and it was my idea but if it wasn’t for the entire Thin Gold Line coming together and uniting, this movement would be nothing. I want to thank each and every person who shared a story and who plans on sharing a story. Without all of you this movement would not have made the impact that it has. To my team, thank you for taking time out of your day to help me push stories out. You're the best! In the end, I am honored and humbled to be a part of this and to share so many stories.
Read the #IAM911 stories on the Within The Trenches Podcast Facebook page here [FACEBOOK membership required]
or simply enter a search on Facebook of via Google for #IAM911