What does is take to become a 9-1-1 dispatcher?
Dispatchers make up almost half of our staff at the Department of Emergency Management (DEM). We consider them the first, first responders in an emergency. They are the first person on the line when you call 9-1-1, and often they continue to help manage the emergency by directing police officers, fire fighters, and medics to your location. Their job is often a rollercoaster, not knowing what situation they will find when picking up the phone and often not knowing how the calls that they take will end.
Our dispatchers are resilient, quick on their toes and try to find humor in some of the more difficult parts of their jobs. The commitment they make to the department and the public when choosing to embark on the journey of becoming a dispatcher is quite large. As we welcome another 15 new hopeful dispatchers to the Academy at the end of the month we wanted to reflect on what they’re in for. What does it take to graduate from the POST Dispatcher Academy and be set free on the 9-1-1 dispatch floor?
We sat down with Lorrie Serna, a Training Coordinator for our Division of Emergency Communications to glean a greater understanding as to what this new class is in for. Lorrie shared that dispatchers begin their training in the classroom where they spend 8 weeks diving into the basics of what it takes to be a dispatcher. They begin by learning all SFPD radio codes, reviewing phonetics, learning how to navigate through our CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system, and completing POST required courses. In addition they must master the geography of the City, radio dispatching, and the Medical and Fire Standards of the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch. Lastly, they begin engaging in scenario-based training, and observe other dispatchers in operations (the 9-1-1 dispatch floor).
After their full orientation and basic training, they move towards ‘on the job training’ meaning that they start to take calls. Dispatchers spend 3 months processing calls before they are monitored for release to work on their own. To make things a little more unique, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management is a combined call center, so dispatchers must learn how to process all 9-1-1 calls for Police, Medical and Fire, as well as Police non-emergency. After these intense three months, they are released as a call taker, but the training isn’t over. The class must return for a short 2-day radio dispatch refresher, and return for another 3 months of on the job training for police radio dispatch.
The above process takes 8-9 months, and at the end the dispatcher should be released to manage radio dispatch calls, but even then they are not yet finished. The probation period after basic and on the job training is one year, after which the class returns to the classroom for Fire Radio Dispatching training followed by 5 weeks of more the job training for release. Are you as exhausted as I am?! That’s a total of roughly 2 years of training before dispatchers are completely on their own on the 9-1-1 floor.
Their tireless dedication to their service and to the training component of their job is to be commended. It is clear from this process that training is integral to developing new and strong 9-1-1 talent. The training component of their career never ends. As new technology is developed we must upgrade our systems and be prepared to evolve with the times. We look forward to this new class of hopeful dispatchers and are appreciative of our training staff that will simultaneously undergo this massive commitment to the next generation of 9-1-1.
Would you like to be a 9-1-1 dispatcher? Think you’re up to the task? Apply here.