With the events in the news lately I’ve been taking a long look at what I do, and why I do it. Dispatching wasn’t my first choice, but helping people was. I spent 8 years as a firefighter. I’ve seen trauma, I’ve seen destruction, and I’ve seen death. None of it was easy, but none of it was as difficult as being a dispatcher.
I’m burnt. I feel like that last hamburger on the tray at the cookout that no one will touch and everyone turns their nose up at. There aren’t enough pickles or mustard in the world to cover up the crispy black edges. I wonder, how did I get this way? Is there any way back out? Obviously there are others like me. It could have easily been me that got frustrated or felt insulted and hung up. We don’t know the whole story. What kind of call happened before that? It doesn’t matter right? We have to be strong. We have to push the things we hear to the back of our minds so we can deal with the next person’s emergency, right?
I’ve been on the phone when a baby has taken its first breath. I’ve been on the phone when a person has taken their last. I’ve heard everything in between. Gunshots. Screams. Cries. Whispers. I’ve had days when I’ve felt like I’ve saved everyone. More often than not I go home thinking that I didn’t save or help anyone. That’s the feeling that destroys me.
I’m scared, and hurt, right alongside the people that call. I can’t see what is happening but I can hear it, and I can feel it. Sometimes those feelings follow me home. The sounds of a 10 year old boy trying not to cry while his mom was battered by her boyfriend still haunt me. He has more courage than all the policemen and fireman I know. He doesn’t know it but he is the bravest person I’ve ever spoken to.
I hold my breath. I hold it every time an officer or firefighter doesn’t answer the radio. I hold my breath during every pursuit. Every house that is cleared. Every traffic stop. Every time an evacuation is ordered in a structure fire. Every PAR count. Every mayday. It’s a wonder I ever breathe at all on the job. I’m always alert, always waiting, always dreading that next phone call or mic click, it might be someone’s last.
Please have patience with me. I may sound rude, but I don’t mean it. Yes, I want that dog to quit barking as much as you do. I want that party to quiet down too. That phone call before yours though, was a mother that just lost their only child. It was a fatal car accident involving the quarterback and the homecoming queen. It was shots fired at a community gathering in the park. It was one of our own involved in a tragedy. I didn’t have time to gather my thoughts or my composure before you called and I’m still trying to process what just happened. I know you don’t care, it didn’t happen to you, you didn’t know them. I didn’t either, but I was there.