In 1981 an incident in Contra Costa County California sparked what we now know as NPSTW and for 41 years, PSAPs of all sizes have acknowledged their staff in a variety of ways. The incident in Contra Costa County started innocently enough. The Sheriff decided he was going to acknowledge all of his administrative staff, so he took them all to lunch. The problem was, when their phones had to be answered, and routinely were after hours, by the dispatch center. But to have the phones all forwarded in the middle of the day for two hours, and without notice, took the PSAP by surprise. When the administrative staff returned and the phone volume went back to normal, one tenured dispatcher decided to make sure the Sheriff knew what he had done. Pat Anderson had been a dispatcher when the Sheriff was hired, so she knew him as well as the senior sworn staff members well. The Sheriff was surprised by the fall-out effect of his decision and promised it would never happen again. Within an hour, the Sheriff and Undersheriff arrived at dispatch with a beautiful cake saying, “Happy Dispatcher Week”. With that idea under their belt, the Pat, the Sheriff, and Under Sheriff started an initiative that resulted in what we now know as the National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Presidential Proclamation (6667) declaring the second week of April as NPSTW.
Working in a PSAP for 38 years has reinforced my thoughts that the relationships within the PSAP are critical for the success of individuals as well as the PSAP as an agency. What makes a PSAP great? From my perspective, having had the privilege of working in a variety of positions, a PSAP is only as great as the Telecommunicators who answer the phone. The First, first responders, the unsung heroes, the life-line to the public safety responders on the other side of the radio. I have witnessed and been part of the dispatch centers that rallied around fallen or injured responders. I have experienced the center rally around struggling co-workers, or peers who have suffered personal or professional trauma. The commitment to the REAL people in the profession is not limited to their own PSAP, it extends to support their neighboring PSAPs in times of need. Many people have attempted this career only to find they don’t have what it takes to be successful at the job. The ability to talk and type, while dispatching units, giving their co-workers a heads up on a call and still listening to their peers take additional calls are tasks that require skill… real skill!. Telecommunicators must listen closely to their callers, hear the description of the scene, many automatically visualize it and suffer the trauma of that call, even while they move on to the next. They are often the first to be blamed when a call goes side-ways, and the last to be recognized when it goes well. Their work is amazing.
Over the years the view of the profession continues to shift, recognizing these amazing people behind the headset. Acknowledgment of their pain when a traumatic call has occurred, providing them with support at every level, and for many states across the country, standards of training are in place that will ensure each person answering the phone and sending the units, will receive appropriate training throughout his or her career. In addition at a Federal level, Public Safety Telecommunicator profession is under consideration to obtain a re-classification within the Protective Service Occupation, as opposed to the clerical classification it’s been since the inception of 9-1-1 in 1968.
Make sure your voice is heard for public safety telecommunicators classification change to Protective Service Occupations. This change will correct the current inaccurate classification and recognize the individuals who call 9-1-1 their profession for the lifesaving work they perform.
What else can you do to recognize the 9-1-1 professionals during Public Safety Telecommunicator week? There are a plethora of ways,
- For employers:
- If your agency wears uniforms, give them a “casual week” pass.
- Have a theme for each day of the week – sports, cartoons, crazy hair, etc. Vote on a winner each day – put all the winners in a hat and draw a name at the end of the week – make sure to take fun pictures!!
- Games: Fill a jar with counted candy pieces and hide a gift card in the middle, the winner of the “guess how many”, gets the jar – and everything in it.
- There are a variety of places you can purchase gifts as well, such as cups, bags, and shirts.
- For anyone:
- Food – for all the shifts, always a good option! Even a cake, as the Sheriff brought in Contra Costa, CA, all those years ago.
- Heartfelt thank you!
Many PSAPs do not have any budget for this type of employee recognition, I experienced that for the last 15 years of my PSAP career. The gift cards I purchased were never more than $10. I would start searching for gifts in May each year to hold for the next April to give away in contests. Each PSAP should strive to do the best with what they have, and make sure the heroes behind the headset know they are valued.
Try these sites for ideas:
The Telecommunciators throughout the world serve everyone; police, fire, EMS, citizens, utility companies, other PSAPs, literally everyone. Without them who would answer the call and who would send help? Thank someone YOU know who works in 9-1-1 today, they will appreciate it.
For more information on re-classification of the Public Safety Telecommunications and to sign or start a petition, visit: 911.gov / Submitted by: Cherie Bartram, ENP; MM.