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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 Ohio, 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 (s) and should not taken as official policy of ANY organization with which I am associated. Reading or sharing any post from this site shall be taken as an indication that you have read this disclaimer and understand it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dispatch Basics: the worst phrase you will ever hear or say

You hear it in a variety of circumstances. Sometimes its the answer to: "why do we do it that way?"  Sometimes its a response to a proposed action that goes a little far outside the box, requiring a Supervisor's approval. Other times its said with the shrugged shoulders symptomatic of a career of frustration, indifference, or passing the buck. 

I would venture to suggest that it is reflective of much more than one person's potentially defective style of supervision. If anything, it is the canary in the coal mine language that serves as a flashing neon sign screaming: "there may be serious management or leadership problems here". 

What phrase does all this and more? 

"That's above my paygrade."

I can imagine no circumstance where that is a truly valuable or appropriate answer to a question or suggestion. In truth, it is a cop-out. Engineered to absolve the user from any obligation to either a) make a decision themselves b) route the suggestion/question to the proper person 3) or provide a proper explanation of why things are the way they are.  

Think about it like this. You are sitting at your local physician. You are curious about a new lump that suddenly arrived on your anatomy. Likely not serious, but still annoying. You ask the doctor about i and get: "thats above my paygrade!"  What confidence does that instill in you about their knowledge or their ability?  I think we all know by now there are chains of command in every institution. There are processes to follow. 

But to just throw in the towel. What kind of respect will that earn you?  After all, even if you don't know an answer, or arent authorized to make it, shouldn't the next step to be take it to someone who is able? 

How about some pride. How about some ownership? If the question is silly or has been tried or really shouldn't be escalated, then explain right there and then what's up. Do not take the easy way out. 

That's something that applies- no matter what your paygrade. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dispatch Basics: Verify! (and Replace if Required)

I have to confess that I am surprised that this may be a revelation for some centers.  Granted, it may be a policy issue and not a dispatcher issue, but it seems like common sense:

(Part 1) Verify that the units you have sent to the assignment are actually going. 

(Part 2) If they are not responding in a pre-determined amount of time, replace them! 

This should not require permission from an IC or some sort of special papal dispensation. It is truly a matter of common sense.  The next step, after replacing the missing in action unit, is to notify the responding IC or the other unit (if there is one) that you were unable to verify the other unit and have replaced them with Unit XXX. 

Some examples:

You assign two patrol units to a disturbance.  The first unit acknowledges the call on their MDC.  The second does not.  Ten seconds later, you call the unit on the radio and they do not respond.  Call one more time.  Wait ten seconds.  Then assign the next closest car.  Immediately after, notify the first unit of the change.  This is a safety issue that may impact the actions of the first car.  Whether their back-up is coming from one minute or ten minutes away could have a significant impact on whether they go directly into the location, or wait.

You dispatch three engines to a fire along with a Battalion Chief.  The second due engine does not acknowledge their  run.  You must replace them, AND notify both the IC AND the second due engine of the change in assignment. In many areas, the second due engine is responsible for water supply.  The third due has a different role on the scene of the fire.  Disaster could ensue if the third due engine is not aware that they must now assume the role of water supply.  Granted, your procedures may be different, but this is just one situation where replacement and advisement are very important. 

The same situation could exist on an EMS run, where a BLS unit would wait on the scene if the originally assigned paramedic unit was coming from five minutes away.  However, with a critical patient, a hospital ten minutes away, and the paramedic unit coming from twenty minutes away, the EMTs may decide to transport immediately. 

In all of these cases it comes down to taking the simple steps to ensure the most effective outcome.  Verify assigned units are responding, take the correct action if they are not, and ensure that the people who need to know- KNOW.  Dispatchers can play a very important role in ensuring effective and timely response of units, no matter what the emergency and its starts with verifying that response. 

Dispatch Basics: 9-1-1 Center Design (Part-1)

Although this particular topic is directed more at the managers and directors of 9-1-1 centers, addressing this issue starts with dispatchers and the important nuances of how the job actually gets done.  For those centers who have call-taking, dispatch, and supervision on the same floor or in the same building,far too little thought is given to how the physical arrangement of the working positions either contributes to success or failure.
Here is the first problem.  Too many “modern” centers make too many incorrect assumptions about how we work.  Or they think that technology will bring about changes in how we communicate.  Case in point: having all of the dispatch positions facing a giant wall of TV monitors.  Yes, it looks like some cool scene out of a movie.  Yes, it gets more gizmos and wizbangs into the center.  But I know of no dispatch center were the personnel spend a large amount of time watching those screens. 
Should they be there, perhaps.  But the most important information for dispatchers should be visible from their position while they sit normally.  Ideally, if an alert, it should appear visually and audibly.  Distracting personnel with giant screens is a good first step towards diminishing the effectiveness of the center.  The best information to put on those screens are things that should be glanced at once in a while or that relate to everyone on the floor- such as weather maps, traffic cameras, or the overtime list.  These do not need to be front and center, just visible.  Far more important is to have easy visibility, at the position, of the active incidents, radio, and CAD while not isolating the dispatchers from each other. 
The next big problem. Many agencies try to use electronic messaging as  a replacement for old fashioned communication by voice or sight.  Although CAD to CAD messages are an important tool, especially in large centers, there is no replacement for line of sight or proximate communication.  Being able to look at, learn over, or lean back to speak to a coworker is important beyond all description.  This is much more "human", much more effective, and has a much lower failure rate than being forced to route simple questions through a computer system. 
The next big problem: we are not going paperless.  I'm sorry but its just not going to happen.  We need scrap paper, we need maps, and we need places to write important information.  Now, there shouldn't be 2,000 post-it-notes on the monitor, but there is a happy place where the necessary information is documented and we maintain our effectiveness. 
Along the same line, we must have an adequate amount of workspace, but we must also have everyone close enough that they can support each other when required.  This allows a more effective team based approach to the mission, instead of individual islands of Dispatchers all doing their own thing.  There are multiple ways to accomplish this and it depends on how many personnel are working, what job they are doing, and building constraints but facilitating “old fashioned communication and teamwork” should be a major goal of any 9-1-1 center position design. 
Speaking of positions, another disturbing trend is for more and more monitors crammed onto the desks.  This has to end.  No dispatcher can be expected to be actively or effectively engaged with more than three or four screens at their positions.  Directors need to make harsh decisions about what really needs to be on the position and what needs to go.  Vendors in the 9-1-1 space can help this effort with greater integration of software and technology, which saves having to have monitors by system.  Instead, we should be able to have our monitors arranged by function, a process that could radically improve the effectiveness of dispatchers and lessen the number of critical mistakes. 
Returning to the floor plan, more centers should also offer tables on the floor.  Having a simple eight-foot table next to dispatch area can serve both training and meal needs, keeping food away from the expensive stuff, but keeping personnel close enough to still be “in-the-mix”. 
In the end, it all comes down to the facility and the technology meeting the needs of the Dispatchers and the Operation, not the reverse.  Too often, Dispatchers and Supervisors are not even invited to the planning discussions. This is unacceptable.  No fire chief, police chief, ems director, or IT director would allow a new facility, police car, fire truck, or ambulance to be designed and built without a clear understanding of the mission or the needs of the user.  When it comes to 9-1-1 centers the same should be true.  So if your agency is planning a new building, do everything you can to become involved in the process and help make sure that what is built actually helps you work better. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dispatcher Basics: Valuing the Past

A quick thought today about one of our greatest resources in the world of 9-1-1: those who have come before us. 

One of the reasons why the fire service and law enforcement are such proudnand storied organizations is the respect they show their traditions and their history. Show me an organization that understands and values its past and that organization will likely have a promising future. 

As a generally new profession, 9-1-1 (or whatever discipline of emergency communications you are a part of) often doesn't take the time to reflect on where it started or where it has been. In the chaos of the schedule of most 9-1-1 directors there is little room for "value our history" between meetings, calls, meetings and calls.  

However, this ends up costing us far more than we realize. As we look tohave a  better, more engaged, and effective workforce one strategy is to help our dispatchers grasp their role as part of something much bigger. As a critical piece of a public safety profession that has roots well over 150 years old.  Sharing with our new members their responsibility to help this proud group grow, succeed, and continue puts their actions into prospective.  It helps them to feel connected to something bigger. 

One simple way to do this is to value the senior members of our organizations and those who have retired. Too often, the last time a person is seen in the center is the day they retire. Too many never again step foot inside the center.  This is a sad and missed opportunity. 

Think of how much knowledge is potentially lost. How much support for new people could be found in the lessons or encouraging words shared by a long time veteran?  Why not have the retiree come back and speak to the newly hired- explaining just how valued their career and friendships were? Or serve as a mentor to those interested in the career? 

Many fire departments and police agencies have groups for their retirees. Seeing them at the table in the kitchen is an important event for everyone concerned. It connects the future to the the past and the present and helps to build the community that we should all be a part of. 

I encourage each of you to find ways to connect your agency to its history and your personnel to those who have served before and who are just starting out. Maybe its a retiree night at the center; a newsletter that shares "where are tgey now" or a display of memoribilia in the lobby of your center. Whatever forms it takes, being connected to our senior and retired members will pay dividends for all concerned and help us create an even better 9-1-1 profession. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dispatcher Basics: You are not paid to think

You are paid to know. 

That may sound a little outlandish or even risky, but there is a very real truth behind it. When things are going crazy, those in the 9-1-1 field don't have a great deal of time to ponder every possible outcome or read a binder full of disaster plans to find out what to do.  

Under the stress of an active shooter, a tornado, a greyhound bus accident, or a fire the Dispatchers on the team handling that incident must react instinctively and with minimal thought.  Those of you who have been in those situations probably know all too well the challenge (or horror) of working with someone or for someone who doesn't understand this.  They are wishy-washy, uncertain, or indecisive.  Often they do not trust anyone to do the right thing.  

There is a simple reason why people don't trust others or themselves to make the critical decisions during times of crisis.  They don't know themselves or others well enough to trust.  This is why training, learning, and teamwork are so important.  Building the knowledge and the skill BEFORE the big day allows you to be able to react from a position of knowledge, not a position of fear or uncertainty.  

The obvious parallels are responders in life and death situations.  They do not have time to consult the manual.  It is the memory of their training, the shading of their experience, and their attitudes and beliefs which help determine how they will react.  They will not have the time to consult "the book", and neither will 9-1-1 professionals have the ability to do a research project during the crazy times.   

So think about your training, knowledge, skills, and experiences.  Do you build these up as much as you can?  Do you jot down lessons learned from each shift your work or each major event you handle?  Do you share your lessons learned with others so you can gain from what each of you go through?  There are many ways to build your knowledge, but they are not all from your own ledger.  

This is what it means to "know".  You may not have all the answers, but you certainly won't have the luxury of time to do a detailed analysis.  If you have taken the proper steps before that crazy day, however, you may not even realize that thinking was and is overrated.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dispatcher Basics: The Importance of Faith & Spirit

It is a rainy Sunday afternoon and as I write this post the words from the Church Sermons from this morning and this afternoon are rolling around in the part of my brain that ponders the past, the future, and our responsibility to leave this place a better world. I had not darkened the door of a church for twenty-five years when I made my way into Riverside Church in 2012, but my life is infinitely better because I made that walk through fear and assumption into a community of grace, love, and support.   

The story of my faith is for another time and only relevant here  in the fact that, for me, finding a spiritual connection and community was essential for understanding my experiences and what my life was and is for.  It helped to provide a framework to  process the Blackouts, Blizzards, Sandys, and 9/11s that scarred my history.  No doubt you too have places where, as the poet Julia Kasdorf writes, the "world did not bend under our weight".

I firmly believe that, whatever the venue, finding a spiritual connection and community is an essential part of overcoming the challenges and difficulties associated with a career in the 9-1-1 world.  Faced with tragedies unimaginable and successes unbelievable, there is a very genuine necessity for personnel in this profession to find a center. A place that offers peace. 

Equally important is the need to find a community to share the spiritual  journey with.  Humans are social creatures.  We are not built to live a life alone in the dark, but rather grow as a part of something bigger. Having people around us who know and care about who we are and where we are on the journey helps us to achieve and grow in ways beyond what we could ever hope to by ourselves.  If we are fortunate, the people in our community will also hold us accountable, question us, and help ensure that we live to our potential.  Not in the manner of a well intentioned but overbearing parent, but as a fellow traveler, excited about the possibility of sharing the views from the mountainous peaks.

For you, this may be a religious community.  You may be Muslim or Christian, Jewish or Hindu.  The particular flavor or label of your faith is irreverent,  Your path may not be religious at all, perhaps it involves Yoga or Meditation (A practice I highly recommend for anyone, especially 9-1-1 folks).  It may involve reading spiritual books and meeting in book clubs or any of a million other possibilities.  Whatever your approach, finding that path to an understanding that goes beyond the call-type, sirens, cad, and rush to answer the phone will help you in ways you can not imagine. 

In these lives and careers that take so much from us, even on the "Routine" days, finding a way to refill your bucket again will help you be a better dispatcher, a better family member, a better friend, and a better person. Please take the time to find the people, places, and experiences that will help you bridge the gap between this crazy life that we all live and the peace that comes from a greater sense of purpose and community. 

Dispatch Basics: Uniforms Matter. Mostly

It is more than a little amusing that one of the most heated topics of discussion in a 9-1-1 Center revolves around a topic that some may see as trivial.  It should not be a shock to anyone that has watched the passionate and pitched battle that accompanies the introduction of school uniforms that this topic can result in arguments, cat-fights, hurt feelings, and bitterness. 

However, from my prospective, this debate is truly not a debate at all.  If 9-1-1 is a profession, then we need to express that: completely.  In our attitude, in our performance, and in our appearance.  Can you think of any profession that does not have some sort of uniform or standard of dress that is presentable?  If a doctor came into your hospital room or a lawyer into your courtroom looking like a slob then how much faith would you have in their talent, knowledge, or ability?

Looking into the mirror and seeing a well dressed professional looking back is an simple yet brilliant way to increase our own perceptions and expectations of our performance and share that message with the world. 

Perhaps your agency doesn't have a formal uniform.  That still doesn't mean you need to show up to work in shorts, flip-flops, and a tank top.  Buy some khakis at WalMart or Target, some plain polo or dress shirts of a matching color, and set the tone.  It may also be appropriate to wear shirts relevant to your discipline, but that is on case by case and local basis. 

More importantly, whether you wear a formal uniform or one of your own creation, keep it up and in good condition.  The only thing worse than not wearing a uniform is wearing one that is shoddy, tattered, and torn. 

It may seem like a simple thing, but if we present ourselves to the world in a professional manner, it is a good step towards getting the world to see us a professionals.  Granted, it may be an adjustment, but in the end its worth it.  And, to be honest, people at work don't want to see you in shorts or a tank-top anyway.