I loved your recent insert recognizing our local first responders. I was, however, dismayed with the failure by The Bakersfield Californian as well as the leadership of our local agencies who failed to recognize the very first person to respond to an emergency: the dispatchers who answer those calls.
The only person to recognize dispatchers was Lavonne Hall who correctly acknowledged the highly trained Emergency Medical Dispatchers at Hall Ambulance ("National First Responders Day: We come together to assist one patient at a time," Oct. 27). Our Bakersfield City Fire Department and Kern County Fire Department also employ EMDs, but were not even mentioned.
When these dispatchers answer an incoming call, the caller is likely screaming in their ear. They must first calm the caller and then obtain information about the emergency. In the case of a heart attack, the dispatcher must provide life-saving instructions before help arrives. They successfully deliver babies by phone before help arrives. They direct callers in how to save a life. They struggle many times with determining where the patient is in a county as large as the state of Oklahoma. Medical aid calls are common on Interstate 5. But, where? Many times dispatchers get vague descriptions and must use personal knowledge, GPS coordinates or visual reports to determine where to send help. In the case of a police officer or California Highway Patrol officer requesting immediate assistance, they rely on their dispatcher to know where they are and who is closest to help them. These fine men and women were certainly worth a mention by their leaders.
Statistics say that only 3 percent of the human population can serve as a public safety dispatcher beyond a six-year career. The constant tragedy is simply too much for the human brain to take. I’m happy that many agencies recognize that dispatchers are repeatedly traumatized and need PTSD counseling services just as much as field personnel do.
I am proud to be married to a supervisor at the Kern County Emergency Communication Center. She has proudly served our citizens for 22 years. She has heard many individuals take their last breath before help arrives. She has heard the sound of mothers screaming who woke to a dead baby. She has taken many calls from people who found their spouse or child had taken their own life at home and had to remain on the phone with them until help arrives. Don’t think for a moment that they simply check that type of horror at the door when they get home. They do not. They carry that baggage with them for life.
As they drive around town, they remember fatal accidents at intersections, people who died in buildings that didn’t get out in time or worse, were trapped and burned to death while screaming into the phone. My wife can tell you the name of every firefighter severely burned in her career. She even took a “Firefighter DOWN” call that involved her own father who was working a massive hay fire. She calmly acknowledged a firefighter was down and that she was dispatching an ambulance. Could you do the same?
Serving as an emergency dispatcher is not for the faint of heart. They are highly trained, highly organized people that may indeed save your life before help ever arrives. They should be considered as much of a hero and first responder as any police officer, firefighter or medic. They will always be the first person to respond to your emergency and that response starts with, "911, what is your emergency?"
Jim Luff is a community advocate involved with numerous local charities and events.