I Am 911
August 30, 2016 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Because most people think of work like customer service when they think of remote jobs, these jobs are usually classified as clerical. 911 dispatchers are no exception. Unlike most clerical workers, though, 911 dispatchers often have to handle talking citizens through traumatic situations, often risking compassion fatigue and trauma themselves in the process. In order to get 911 dispatchers access to mental health services and support, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials are openly campaigning to reclassify 911 dispatchers as first responders. As part of that campaign, 911 dispatchers have been speaking out this week about some of the more harrowing experiences they've talked people in crisis through.
posted by sciatrix (18 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
My cousin is a 911 dispatch in San Diego. I'm so glad to hear about the first-responder reclassification campaign. This shit they go through daily is harrowing.
posted by rp at 8:28 PM on August 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have a cousin who's a 911 operator and he saved some people and the state recognized him for his work, coaching people through CPR and other emergency response.

I had to call 911 once when my baby stopped breathing and when I posted about it on facebook later a friend was like "OH HEY YOUR OPERATOR WAS MY SISTER." She was super glad to know it all came out okay ... They don't get to find that out very often. She had told her family how stressed she was about the baby who stopped breathing and she had coached the mom through it and dispatched the EMS ... I hope I didn't swear a ton.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:35 PM on August 30, 2016 [42 favorites]

I suspect swearing a ton is a completely unsuprising, non-noteworthy reaction in that situation. Me, I'd be vapor locked. (That's where my wife's skill set kicks in). (Also, really glad that your crisis resolved itself)
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:10 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

That last link....ay. Just one nightmare situation after another. I wish I hadn't read so many of those.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:52 PM on August 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yes, be careful with that last link, especially if you're a parent. Very scary. I certainly agree dispatchers are first responders.
posted by slidell at 10:32 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do this for a living. I appreciate this campaign and it is very popular with my coworkers. Particularly as we are on the cusp of getting a new contract signed. Me, I'd just like it if people who called 911 knew where the heck they are.
posted by ericales at 10:50 PM on August 30, 2016 [39 favorites]

Am I missing something? From what I can tell, the SOC reclassification the 911 operators are asking for would do nothing except change some relatively obscure government employment statistics. How, exactly, does this relate to "[getting] 911 dispatchers access to mental health services and support"?
posted by kickingtheground at 11:08 PM on August 30, 2016

I read precisely 3 of the #IAM911 stories and had to stop. I am flabbergasted that anyone who routinely deals with these situations is not classified as a first responder.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:24 PM on August 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Kickingtheground, I'm assuming that until they're classified as first responders, they wouldn't automatically be granted access to, for example, government programs intended to mitigate the effects of PTSD for such workers.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:29 PM on August 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

Huh, that is interesting. I absolutely support call takers and dispatchers getting counseling if needed, and it sure is a high burnout job. That said, I'm also curious what the effect of the classification would be. As far as I know, I have generally the same access to services as any other city employee, including our call takers. I also have access to a peer support team, but that's all volunteers and isn't dependent on any kind of a classification.
posted by firebrick at 11:38 PM on August 30, 2016

Oh, and ericales, thanks for doing what you do. I share your locational frustration. We had a call tonight that was a possible burglary in progress, but the TC wasn't able to get a good address and the caller just repeatedly yelled "get police here!" and was irate with the TC for trying to clarify the address.

Also decent descriptions of anyone involved would be nice.
posted by firebrick at 11:43 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Damn straight.
posted by tilde at 4:51 AM on August 31, 2016

If you don't think a 911 operator isn't a first responder, you need to think about what the word first means.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:33 AM on August 31, 2016 [11 favorites]

Getting 911 operators the counselling they need is important and it's appropriate to give them the social status of first responders. But I have absolutely no idea why they think that changing SOC codes would accomplish anything or provide any benefits - they admit this much.

One major thing they elide in their campaign is there is no occupation categorization for "first responders"; they are seeking to be put in the Protective Services category (33-0000) along with police and fire workers, but this category also includes workers like TSA, lifeguards and animal control workers who are generally not considered first responders. On the other hand, paramedics and EMTs are definitely considered "first responders" and are not in the 33-0000 major group, they are in 29-2040 Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics, part of the 29-0000 healthcare practicioners/technicians major group.

The strongest argument to me that 911 dispatchers are unlike other dispatchers is that they provide detailed advice over the phone - but this is almost always medical advice (police/fire advice is usually "get away and let the pros deal with this", I assume). But they're being asked to go to protective services, not healthcare (which would seem even sillier).

There is a lot of important economic analysis done using the SOC codes, and every change makes it harder to look through time and do this analysis. In the last revision [PDF], only 7 of 840 specific occupations changed groups, so this is a very unusual request. Most changes are minor updates of definitions to reflect changes in technology, with the increasing of detail in some sectors. Computer occupations started out very lumped together but are now being split finer; Web Developers and Information Security Analysts are new split occupations, for instance, but they're not reclassified from some other group - we just have more detail about what these computer people do.

Keeping consistency in SOC codes has an actual positive benefit - this change would make it much harder to track changes in protective service employment and wages through time, for example, since there would be more workers in the group due to this definition. I don't know how changing SOC codes would provide any actual tangible support for 911 operators, other than the vanity of being lumped with cops rather than other phone dispatchers in an obscure bureaucratic classification. I don't think anybody is deciding whether workers need a certain level of mental health support by referring to their SOC codes.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:44 AM on August 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm so glad dispatchers are getting more respect and awareness. My cousin is a dispatcher. Several years back, she took a call from distraught teenagers who had accidentally shot and killed their best friend. It was her son. She took the call for her own son's shooting and death.

They absolutely should be classified as first responders, especially since they provide support and help before the "real" first responders even get to the scene.
posted by jhope71 at 10:31 AM on August 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think the reclassification attempt is an attempt to remove self-stigma, or dismissal in the eyes of mental-health professionals. As a mental-health professional, I'm refusing to even read the firsthand dispatcher accounts linked here, because I can only imagine how traumatic they are and I'm not mentally equipped to handle that today. But I could see a dispatcher feeling like they aren't "really" entitled to seek help for their vicarious trauma, or worrying that a therapist would think of them as not "really" deserving of support.
posted by lazuli at 3:52 PM on August 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I only had to call 911 once after witnessing my father have a cardiac event in front of me (he had a-fib and stopped breathing. Agonal "breathing" is extremely scary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agonal_respiration).

The operator was a total bitch. Very snotty in tone and told me "either you want the paramedics or you don't." I guess I was babbling since I was watching my father gasp for air and unconscious.

Then I realized that a bully who lived down the street, whom I went to school with, is a 911 operator in our area. After giving my father's name and the fact that their address never changed, it wouldn't surprise me if it was her.

Besides that bad apple, I have total respect for dispatchers. I have no idea how they do it.
posted by stormpooper at 7:22 AM on September 1, 2016

Have not read the linked articles yet, but this reminds me of how drone pilots can experience stress and psychological harm, despite being thousands of miles away from the battlefield.
posted by neutralmojo at 8:19 AM on September 1, 2016

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