Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers answer calls for emergency, non-emergency, and alarm calls from people who need help from firefighters, police, emergency services, or a combination of the three. Dispatchers work in emergency communication centers and must be available around the clock.
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How to Become an Emergency Dispatcher
Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers are typically required to have a high school diploma or the equivalent with many states requiring training and certification. Candidates must pass a typing test and written exam and it may be required to pass drug tests, lie detector tests, hearing and vision screening, and a background test.
Most states require proof of U.S. citizenship and sometimes a valid driver’s license. A person with experience in customer service and using computers may have an advantage when competing for a job. The ability to speak Spanish is also desirable.
Each state may have different requirements for training. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International) can provide a list of states requiring training and certification. Some agencies use their own programs for certification while others may use a professional association. Training is often conducted in a classroom, on-the-job, and followed by a 1 year probationary period.
Training covers a wide range of topics like standard procedures, agency protocols, and local geography. He or she is also taught to use specialized equipment and computer systems. Dispatchers are also trained to prepare for high-risk situations like suicidal callers and child abductions.
Job Description of a Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatcher
The duties of a police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers include answering emergency and non-emergency calls and alarm systems calls. They determine what type of emergency it is, the emergency location, and send the appropriate response based on agency procedures. They must communicate clear information to the appropriate first-responder agency and coordinate the dispatch of emergency response personnel to accident scenes. This career may be stressful due to alarming situations and the need to respond quickly.
Dispatchers give basic over-the-phone medical instructions when necessary before emergency personnel arrive on the scene. A dispatcher provides advice to callers on how best to remain safe while waiting for assistance. They must monitor and track the states of fire, police, and ambulance units and synchronize responses with other area communication centers. All dispatchers must have a detailed record of information of all calls received.
Dispatcher Career Video Transcript
In an emergency, when a 9-1-1 call is made, emergency dispatchers keep a cool head to ensure that callers get the help they need, while providing a reassuring presence over the phone. Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers answer emergency and nonemergency calls. They quickly determine the type of emergency, its location and the response needed, then relay that information to the appropriate emergency responders. They also give medical instructions or advice on how to stay safe until help arrives.
Dispatchers monitor and track emergency vehicles, coordinate responses with other local communication centers, and keep detailed records of calls. Dispatch work is stressful. Dispatchers often work long shifts taking many calls under pressure to respond quickly and calmly sometimes handling life-threatening situations. Most work for local government, in centers called public safety answering points. Some work in law enforcement agencies and fire departments. Shifts include weekends, evenings and holidays. Dispatchers generally need a high school diploma, U.S. citizenship, and dispatcher certification. Candidates may be required to pass a typing test, background check, drug tests, lie detector, and hearing and vision tests. Spanish language skills are a plus.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers.
National Center for O*NET Development. 43-5031.00. O*NET OnLine.
The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.