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Within the Trenches – Dispatch Stories Episode 1

wttNewLogoA while back I posted on the show’s Facebook fan page regarding dispatch stories and guest posts. Up until about a week ago I had not received anything but recently I met a fellow dispatcher who was more than willing to share her story. Her enthusiasm and love for the job led her to many years of service behind the mic as well as becoming a writer, speaker and advocate. It is my hope that this inspiring story will encourage more people in the 9-1-1 community to step forward and share their story as a guest blog post or be a guest on the show. A big thanks goes out to Kathy for sharing her story and years of service. Please comment below, share this post and if you would like to do a guest post of your story please email me at wttpodcast@gmail.com with the subject of “Within the Trenches – Dispatch Stories.” And without further ado, the dispatch story of Kathy.

“I joined Bay Shore Brightwaters Rescue Ambulance in the very early 80’s as a dispatcher because I couldn’t have managed the time constraints of EMT school. I was already working full time, going to school full time and raising my son alone. All I could manage, I thought, was the 6-8 hours a week to volunteer as a dispatcher. Because of all the other things I was doing, I chose to be a midnight dispatcher. The dispatch system was, in hindsight, so archaic. They allowed us to dispatch from home with a portable radio and home phone ~ but with an in house crew. There wasn’t always an in house crew so my living about half an hour away from Headquarters was a problem. The “tones” would go off and I would call HQ to see who was in the house and if anyone else was responding. More often than not we (Dispatchers) didn’t even know who was on the rig until they were back at HQ after the call when and if they called me to square away times etc. My job was to listen to the portable and jot down the times as heard between my rig and Med Com (Medical Communications). Every Dispatcher was responsible for lining up an overnight crew whether they pulled duty from home or HQ. If no crew was available, we then had to call Med Com and 24 the call to a neighboring Agency. As senseless as all that seemed to me, even back then, the Dispatcher didn’t seem to be all that important to the “riding” members. That really bugged me because every chance I got I went on calls with many of them to observe. I was soon voted into the Supervisor Of Dispatch position, which at that time was an Officers position. This was even before there was a Board of Directors at most Volunteer Ambulance Companies. As Supervisor my responsibilities grew and I found myself spending an awful lot of time at HQ. Dispatching from home was no longer an option but my position was met with great resistance by Heads of other Committees because, after all, I was just a Dispatcher. What could I possibly know about what type of crew was needed for which emergency? THIS bugged me to no end. There were charges filed against me and vice versa and was something that was constantly being addressed at the Officers Meetings. Shortly thereafter the members of BSBRA formulated the differences between the Officers and what we were inducting as The Board Of Directors. This delineation was eliminating the Officers position of Supervisor of Dispatch. Not the position itself but as an Officer. After a while, the politics and egos of all the new positions was just too much drama for me. I had been having serious health issues so I resigned from  Bay Shore Rescue.

When my health returned I joined Brentwood Legion Ambulance. THEY seemed to appreciate the position of Dispatcher and were interested and excited about what I could bring to their organization having been at Bay Shore. There seemed to be a lot of walk in patients HQ by members of our community where only a Dispatcher was in house. I saw that as a problem and started looking in to how we could better train Dispatchers to assist the riding members with situations such as this. I had heard about the National Academy Of Emergency Medical Dispatchers (NAEMD) based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. This certification enabled a Dispatcher to give life saving instructions over the phone to stabilize a patient while dispatching an appropriate crew depending on the color code of the call. It didn’t do much to solve the “walk in” situation but did take Dispatching to a whole other level. Now to figure out how to get this done. I had also heard that Miles Quinn from Suffolk County Fire Rescue and Emergency Services had actually taken the steps needed to have his Dispatchers Certified. I, as a Dispatcher, couldn’t seem to get an appointment with the Board of Directors to address this situation so I asked Miles Quinn if he would address our Board and explain the whole thing and all it’s possibilities. He agreed, met with the Board and the Board said they would be interested IF it didn’t cost them any money. Back in the early 90’s, the cost per Dispatcher/per 3 day course was in the mid $200 range. I saw that as a challenge. I figured out that if Brentwood actually holds the classes and books enough Dispatchers, our Dispatchers would all be trained for free. First order of business was to get a listing of ALL Agencies in the Tri State area that used Dispatchers whether paid or volunteer and do a mailing. The feedback and interest was great ~ much more than I had anticipated. It was so exciting to see that process take on a momentum all it’s own. Long story short we at BLA, at my direction, held a good 8-10 classes of maybe 50 Dispatchers each. The classes lasted three full days, I had made arrangements with a local hotel to house a block of out of town Dispatchers for a discounted rate ~ I served coffee, tea and bagels and got hundreds of Dispatchers Nationally Certified through NAEMD. The New England Journal of Emergency Medicine interviewed me for an article they were running, printing portions of the letters I sent out to the various Agencies in the Tri State area ~ most of whom were from all over the State of New York. It, very quickly, became mandatory for ALL Dispatchers to have NAEMD Certification before dispatching anywhere. I stayed with Brentwood for a while longer and then my life took yet another turn and had to resign. I kept my EMD certification for a number of years recertifying when needed.

As a result of all my involvement with EMS and having worked in several ER’s simultaneously through the years my son, who was raised while I was at Bay Shore and joined Brentwood with me, became a member in Bay Shore and eventually became one of their Chiefs. Now my oldest grandchild is joining an explorer group with Brentwood becoming third generation Whittaker volunteering for a Rescue Squad making me extremely proud of everything I have managed to do. Yes, there are MANY people who have done much more than I but it is my experience you asked me about and this pretty much sums it up. Now all these years later, I am no longer EMD certified but the status of Emergency Medical Dispatcher has forever changed and continues to go forward. I am registered with the Smart911 Pulse Point system so that if someone in my area goes into cardiac arrest I will be alerted via my smartphone and respond to the scene pending an ambulance. The position of Dispatcher, for advanced as it has become, is still (in my humble opinion) under rated. I do, however, have great faith it will continue to grow and can only hope it will, one day, get the respect it deserves! Thank you for taking an interest in my history as a Dispatcher.”

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