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Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in New York and beyond; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right? Oh and one more thing: The views expressed on this site are entirely my own. They do not reflect in anyway the views or positions of my employer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dispatch Basics: "I hear voices"

      One of the most difficult things to teach new dispatchers is the importance of their voice, not only the words they use (or don't use) but the tone and speed of their speech. It goes without saying that a person's voice is literally their most critical tool as a Dispatcher.  Future advances in video and text to 9-1-1 not-withstanding, this will likely be the case as long as there are dispatchers.  Here are some critical issues to consider: 

"Radio and Phone Voice": To be effective, Dispatchers must develop a firm tone that can be used as an assertive tool on the phone and on the radio.  In this manner voice becomes a behavior modifier, getting excited callers to calm down and provide critical information, and letting units on the other end of the radio know that they have a competent and professional Dispatcher that they can count on (and that wont tolerate slacking from field units).  It was always amazing to me in the FDNY to see how quickly units started acknowledging runs; clearing off calls; and generally just operating better when a good radio Dispatcher sat down at the mic.  There are several styles to accomplish this, effective for slightly different reasons , but the point is to ensure that things work smoothly, information is passed, requests are responded to, there is minimal dead air, and a sense of confidence is expressed.  (Special shout out to George Munch & Jeanne Williams ret. FDNY as prime examples and great teachers on this topic) 

"Concise":  There are some dispatchers who do not know the meaning of this word.  Sadly, they try to convey any message in as many words as possible, rather than in as few as possible.  A prime example of this are redundant or unnecessary words used in Dispatch Messages:  "Engine-1, respond to 205 West Main Street, report of a dumpster fire." Everything that the fire department ever responds to is a "report of".  Why bother saying it?  Although this may not seem like a big deal, the price is paid when things get busy. The busier they are, the less time we have to give information and our everyday habits become the foundation of our actions.  Starting out with an ear on efficiency and effectiveness on the slow days means we will be more effective on the crazy days since we wont be trying to change our normal operation.  

"Hold on Speed Racer":  It is incredibly important for dispatchers to understand that the busier they are, the more determined they must be with their speech over the radio.  In many cases, this will mean forcing themselves to speak more slowly.  Although this can be counter-intuitive, the logic is pretty clear.  When its busy you need to make sure that your units get the information you need to share the first time.  It is not very effective under normal operations to have to repeat things, much less after the tornado has gone through.  Along the same line, it is also worth taking a moment to make sure that critical information has been received by the units.  Just saying "read your MDC" or making an announcement is not always the best way.  Especially if there is life and death information, get an acknowledgement that the unit(s) heard it.  This three-five seconds may help save the life of a victim or of an officer or firefighter. 

"Hot-Potato": Make sure that you are sharing critical information such as: Other incidents active at the same time in the same area (this gives responding apparatus the clue to look out for other responding apparatus); safety information about the building (prior threats to police, HazMats, etc); important comments in the incident history; delay of back-up units; etc.  The list is long but it is the Dispatcher's responsibility to help ensure the safety of responders and one way we can do this is by sharing what we know, when it is helpful.  Don't overload them with stuff. Understand that not everything is critical but when you have something that does matter, relay it and get an acknowledgement.  

"WHY wont they answer me?":  Understanding the operations side of an incident goes a long way towards helping dispatchers be better on the Radio.  At night, a fire engine will probably not be able to answer on the radio for a minute or two due to the time it takes to turn out of quarters. A Medic working a cardiac arrest may be a little busy to answer right away and a police officer at a domestic may be delayed in responding to radio messages.  In most cases, these are not reasons to panic, but the Dispatcher should be mindful of what impacts a unit's ability to reply immediately.  

"Looking like a Superstar" There is an "ebb and flow" of incidents and this is learned by Dispatchers with time on the job.  Understanding how this relates to Radio Communications is important, for it allows time to anticipate and  plan for the next course of action.  For example, a Dispatcher handling a fire for which ten calls have been received should not be surprised when the first arriving unit calls for a second alarm. Likewise when a police officer handling a house with a history of violent domestics calls for urgent back-up. 

Together, each of these concepts (and others) will help anyone be a more effective radio dispatcher.  The key is to learn from those who have come before; continuously improve your knowledge; and learn from the events you encounter (both good and bad) 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dispatch Basics: Canceling Units

It may seem a common sense thought, but there are some agencies who are not permitted to cancel excess units on an assignment or to serve as resource managers. As many dispatchers know, it is not uncommon for enthusiastic fire or ems units to add themselves to calls, especially if the call sounds serious.  

But this can quickly lead to chaos, especiallly on busy days or when the dispatchers do not (or are not allowed) to tell units that they are not needed or can remain in service.  A related issue is when two units claim to be "closer". It is the dispatcher's responsibility to be judge and jury in these instances- with no chance of appeal. 

One important action that dispatchers can take, especially when units have added themselves is to cancel units that are farther away (this is where the CAD map plays an important role, along with situational awareness). Note, if units become available that are closer then by all means they should be sent- but as replacements, not additions. 

Many assume units self dispatching or jumping calls to be victimless crimes. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Response times for the next incident in the area can be dramatically impacted if additional units are responding to a call where they are not required. In a job where seconds count, the added response time when a third or fourth due unit has to respond can have serious consequences. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Watching Harry Potter

I can look back now and know a little better what went wrong.  I did not come to this realization by reading a book.  That little nugget will make my boyfriend smile.  There was no Newton's apple that feel from a tree and granted eternal or even temporary knowledge on its interrupted path to the ground. 

My realization came in, of all places, the middle of a Harry Potter movie. As I am told, it wasn't one of the better ones. It was number two.  Harry is determined to find the source of a voice that only he can hear.  It seems to come from the air, calling to him but no one else. Daring him to search out and get to the truth.  Saving the school and his friends and mentors is a mandatory element of the experience, and adds the mandatory movie drama. 

But what defines his quest is his ability to see and hear things that no one else can. I have been there.  Not while searching for a shadowy serpent in the walls of my school (thankfully), but in my own service as a leader.  The best leaders I have known have heard these voices too.  The things unseen that were good, that served as motivation, and provided direction.  Whether for a shift at a firehouse; an organization, a city or a world. 

Ironically, this same trait has been found in my dating life as well.  As many of my friends will nod at reading, I have made a career out of dating the possible future versions of people.  The ideal possibility that they could become.  The land of the present or of the real is of little worth to someone who can dream in great tapestries of roses, days exploring museums, reading books together, and flowing weddings with 500 guests in a church nave glistening in white satin candlelight.  Never mind that the person before was actually looking for a quickie, or a seven foot tall guy with a beard, or would rather be stung by 3,000 bees than spend more than seven minutes in a bookstore.  

Whether in love or leadership, the greatest not only see and feel that possibility and work towards it, they bring others around to hear the voice as well. They know that all matters of the heart take at least two to work.  That is the difference, between a crazy man who hears noises in the dark and a visionary who helps create something better than they found.  Getting others to come along too.  Harry was able to do this.  He has his close friends and, in this particular film, brought help to himself at his time of greatest need through the power of his faith and his loyalty. 

For me, this is where I have gone wrong and where many others likely do as well.  I can hear the voice, I can see the potential, and even the likely outcome, but too often my view is a solitary one.  But because I am so confident in my assessment, I think I can slay the dragon all by my lonesome.  That my victory will convince the doubters and the deniers that I was right all along. Maybe it will even convince the person standing beside me of the righteous path.  Never mind that they long ago go off the bus, if they were ever even on it in the first place.  

The truth, no matter how hard to admit, is that it does not matter what the end of that type of journey is,  if no one else understands why you are on it, the victory is hollow and shallow and temporary at best.  

So here's to the leaders that are good at getting others on the bus.  That recognize whats real and what's imaginary.  Here's to the times in our lives when we have been on the bus together, even if we didn't realize it or understand why.  And here's to a life of not just seeing the possible, but knowing what to do with the vision. 

Situational Awareness: A Dispatcher's Most Important Tool

It starts with a word problem: 

A call is dispatched for a building fire.  Three engines, two ladder companies, a rescue company, one medic, and a battalion chief are assigned.  An additional medic unit is in the area and adds itself to the call.  The initial companies arrive and report nothing showing.  At the same time, a call is received from an address around the corner from the address of the reported fire. Initially this call is for an unconscious person.  An engine and medic unit are dispatched from approximately four miles away.  A few moments later the call is upgraded to a cardiac arrest.  The fire is contained and two of the apparatus on the fire incident (an engine and medic unit) are flagged down by a civilian to help with the potential cardiac arrest patient.  They inform the dispatcher they will be operating at that location and go to work.  The engine and medic that were assigned are cancelled.  The call turns out to not be  an arrest.  

How would you (or your agency) have handled this situation? 

1. Exactly as described above 
2. You would have been alerted by your CAD that nearby units were available for a call (once the fire was contained) and they would have been dispatched? 
3. Your CAD alerted you to direct the 2nd medic unit to the higher priority call and assign the nearest available engine.  
4. You would have redirected one of the engines on the fire call along with the additional medic to the higher priority incident and replaced the third engine on the fire call.  
5. You have no idea what is even being discussed here and would like a pass.  

Some may think its never right to "armchair quarterback" an operational situation. While it is true that little good can come from criticizing people in retrospect, it is never wrong to take a moment and think about the type of dispatch SYSTEM that we are creating and supporting.  

Dispatchers must be given the authority and the training to permit good decisions.  The more information they have, the more training they are provided, the more authority they are vested with, and the more support they have for doing "the right thing"  the better outcomes we can expect from both them and our public safety services.  

In this case, depending on the information obtained about the fire, the best choice would likely have been to redirect responding apparatus to the high priority medical call. However, it depends.  Were people reported trapped in the fire?  Were there three or four calls for smoke or fire?  Or was it one call for a minor odor or smoke condition that was reported out and the fire dispatch was precautionary.  

It is in this capacity that Dispatchers should serve as resource managers, ensuring that the limited number of tools in the tool box are used the right/best way.  Thankfully, many CAD vendors can now support a more dynamic and empowered dispatch process.  This process is further encouraged by policies and procedures that are results oriented. And one where Dispatchers are supported for taking effective action and then best results are used to support training of other personnel.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Supervisor Challenge

One of the most prevalent issues in any 9-1-1 center with more than one or two personnel working at a time is the issue of effective Shift Supervision.  Often, the challenge takes the form of getting Supervisors to see themselves as in a different role than the people they supervise.  This is made incredibly difficult when the supervisor is also tasked with working a position and/or when the Supervisor is responsible for overseeing people they worked with as dispatchers on a frequent basis. 

Despite the frequency of this issue, there have been few solutions, however that doesn't mean that this is an impossible situation to overcome.  From my experience, there is a simple fix and it starts with getting everyone "on-the-floor" to not see themselves as different, at least in the ultimate reason they are there: to help save lives and provide the best possible service to the public and field responders. 

This approach starts with a redefinition of the roles inside the center.  Rather than seeing Supervision as only the responsibility of one single person who has passed a test, been appointed, or been selected, the roles of Supervision and Leadership should be seen as everyone's responsibility.  From their earliest days on the job, new Dispatchers should be trained on effective supervision, why supervision is important, and what she or he can do to help run the floor in a more effective manner.  

For example, if new personnel are trained (and assessed) on their performance in: Admin Phone; 9-1-1 Phone; Radio; EMS Dispatch; Fire Dispatch; Law Dispatch; Support Dispatch; and Basic Supervision/Leadership; then they have a much better understanding of the roles played by each member of the team.  If policies are written to encourage team performance and, to a limited extent, team accountability, then everyone has organizational support to see themselves not as an island, but as part of an overall group of professionals.  

The next logical step would be to have Dispatchers on a shift rotate a "lead Dispatcher" type role that may serve as an Assistant Supervisor.  (Likely after the completion of their probationary period).  In this way, every member of the shift would take turns seeing things from a supervisory prospective, with responsibility for problem solving, crisis resolution, and related tasks.  For many reasons, the traditional supervisor may need to be retained, but the ultimate goal would be for the person in that role to be able to serve in a largely oversight capacity, developing each member of the team to have skills at all roles on the floor, including supervision.  

In case you are wondering about whether or not this would work, I can tell you from my own experience that it does.  In FDNY, dispatchers served in the "lead" position (known as Decision Dispatcher) as soon as six months after completing initial training and, with effective mentoring and supervision, this helped develop exceptionally skilled personnel.  

Maybe it will not work for everyone and it certainly requires a different approach and mindset, but it can pay significant dividends to bridge the divide between the different roles on the floor and encourage everyone to help solve the supervision challenge. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Really Matters

I will confess I was extremely excited about watching the political shows this evening. Eager to hear about the reactions to Donald Trump's rants; Dr Carson's "stories", and how we will wver make it to the Presidential Election of 2016. 

Leave it to the world to show us yet again that this is serious business. Leading the United States and by extension the Western World is not a game. It demands seriousness, understanding, intelligence. I know that anti-intellectualism is strong. That so many people feel that just anyone who can scream loud enough, be angry enough can serve in the role of President. That there are trends away from understanding the complexity of the world and how to operate effectively in it.  

In the face of this tragedy, let us be reminded just how wrong this view is.  The world is not a game. It should always be clear, maybe even more so tonight as we pray for the people of Paris and for our own continued safety.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Important Things

I think I was 13 years old when I stomped my feet and said I would never go back. For some reason Mom and Dad didn't try to fight or argue.  There was just a resigned acceptance.  And from that moment in 1987 until 2012 I did not darken the door of a church for a regular service. 

The coincidence that 13 was the same age where I really started to feel I might not be like everyone else is not lost on my present day understanding of my historical religious revolt. But if it was part of my decision, it would have been in asubconscious  way.  The same manner in which you sometimes know not to order the salmon no matter how good your friend swears it will be. 

And so I did not go. Except for funerals and weddings.  That is one reason people come to fear church so much. Like a hospital, they come to associate it only with the darkest of days, which are more obvious in terms of funerals but often the ultimate truth about weddings as well. My experience was the same. 

Until a late winter Sunday in 2012 when I found my way to the pews of Riverside Church in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan.  I was not fully familiar with the history of the church,  but I knew it was open and affiriming. I suppose I went there for a thousand reasons, not the least of which was to begin to know myself a little better.  To gain some understanding of the why and what for that I was missing. Maybe it was also to in some way make it up to my Mother for that stomping so many years before. She who had been gone seven years by then physically, but not more than seven minutes or so emotionally on that day or any other. 

More than that even, I went to test a theory. One that had been my tool for self acceptance when I slowly emerged from my closet in the late 1990s.  I truly believed that God created me.  All of me. Just they way I was and am. And that perhaps one reason for me being who I was created to be was to play some role in showing the world the wonder, mystery, and diversity of God's creation. That, far from being an affront to God, any person who lives up to their creation and calling is a reflection of God. A belief that if you live a life of love, tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness and faith you reflect the best of what we can be. And, by extension and expression, show the world a better path. 

In the pews of Riverside Church, on that day and those that would follow, my theory was validated. I will be forever grateful to the staff, clergy, and congregants of that church for helping me along my path and proving to me that Gods love is eternal and total for all of his children. That there are still so many who do not know this truth, that there are so many who do not grasp the pain and hate they sew with their words of venom towards those they do not understand but whom God created, that is one of the tragic realities of our time. I pray that it will ease with greater understanding, but more so I pray that those who only see the darkness of Faith used without Love will come to know the real truth and the possibilites of God that are beyond the bile, blame, and fear.  There is another way. A better way.  

This week marks the 85th anniversary of Riverside.  I will not be able to attend the celebration, but I know that I live that celebration each day.  My only regret now is that my Mom didn't ever make it to church with me. But I suspect that, in truth, she was there with me every time
Hopefully, no matter what your particular faith or belief system, you can find a place that supports your spirit. Its an amazing gift to find your way home. .