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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) 

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