Ambulance dispatchers, also called 9-1-1 operators or public safety telecommunicators, answer emergency and non-emergency calls. They take information from the caller and send the appropriate type and number of units. Ambulance dispatchers work in an emergency communication center, often called a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).
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Ambulance dispatchers typically:
Dispatchers answer calls for service when someone needs help from police, fire fighters, emergency services, or a combination of the three. They take both emergency and non-emergency calls. Dispatchers must stay calm while collecting vital information from callers to determine the severity of a situation. They then give the appropriate first responder agencies information about the call.
Some dispatchers only take calls. Others only use radios to send appropriate personnel. Many dispatchers do both tasks. Dispatchers keep detailed records about the calls that they take. They may use a computer system to log important facts, such as the name and location of the caller. They may also use crime databases, maps, and weather reports when helping emergency response teams.
Dispatchers may monitor alarm systems, alerting law enforcement or fire personnel when a crime or fire occurs. In some situations, dispatchers must work with people in other jurisdictions to share information or to transfer calls.
Dispatchers must often give instructions on what to do before responders arrive. Some dispatchers are trained to give medical help over the phone, For example, they might help someone give first aid until emergency medical services get to the scene.
Most ambulance dispatchers have a high school diploma or GED. Additional requirements vary. Many jurisdictions require dispatchers to become certified. However, some employers may not specify any educational requirements. Others prefer to hire dispatchers who have a related two- or four-year degree in a subject such as criminal justice, computer science, or communications.
Most dispatcher jobs require an applicant to complete an interview as well as to pass a written exam and a typing test. In addition, applicants may need to pass a background check, lie detector and/or drug tests, as well as tests for hearing and vision. Training is usually conducted in both a classroom setting and on the job, and is often followed by a probationary period of about one year. However, this may vary by agency, as there is no national standard of how training is conducted or the length of probation.
Training covers a wide variety of topics, such as local geography, agency protocols, and standard procedures. Dispatchers are also taught how to use specialized equipment, such as a two-way radio and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software. They receive training to prepare for specific types of incidents, such as a child abduction or a suicidal caller. Some dispatchers receive emergency medical dispatcher (EMD) training, which enables them to give medical assistance over the phone.
Dispatchers can become senior dispatchers or supervisors before going on to administrative positions, in which they may focus on a specific area, such as training or policy and procedures. Additional education and related work experience may be helpful in advancing to management level positions. Technology skills also may be helpful in becoming a supervisor.
Ambulance dispatchers work in a communication center, often called a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). Most dispatchers work for local governments, but some work for larger jurisdictions or for private companies. They are largely employed by law enforcement agencies and fire departments. Most dispatchers work 8- to 12-hour shifts, but some agencies choose to use 24-hour shifts. Dispatchers often have to work weekends, holidays, and overtime, as emergency calls can come in at any time.
Work as a dispatcher can be stressful. They may have to work long hours, take many calls, and deal with troubling situations. Some calls may be distressing, and the pressure to respond to emergency situations quickly can be demanding.
The median annual wage of ambulance dispatchers was $35,370 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount, and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned $22,310, and the top 10% earned more than $54,350.