Who are the first responders at your agency? First responders on the scene include police, fire and ems. But what about those first responders who deal with the situation before it gets dispatched? The dispatchers and call takers.
Historically, dispatchers and call takers were not seen as first responders. They were definitely not included in any critical incident stress debriefing. However, consider these following scenarios:
Calls flood in about a residential structure fire. The dispatchers receive a call from a child inside the residence. He tells the dispatchers he is hiding in a closet with his two siblings. The dispatchers tries valiantly to save the children over the phone, but loses contact with them. The fire department arrives, gets the fire under control and recovers the deceased victims. The fire fighters, the paramedics, the police officers, everyone on the scene is devastated. Some who are parents are so despondent, they are sent home. A CISD is immediately set up by supervisors. The dispatcher who heard those child’s last words are not included in the CISD. The dispatcher does not get sent home, regardless of the tears.
An officer on a “routine” traffic stop calls out his information to his dispatcher. They have worked together for several years, and have become friends. The dispatcher hears the dreaded “shots fired”, then radio silence from the officer. The dispatcher remains professional, sends help from everywhere, only to hear from the first arriving officer that the officer is down. EMS transports the officer to the hospital, and has a large procession of police, fire and ems personnel. They all wait at the hospital for news. Where is the dispatcher? Still dispatching, trying to remain professional, while wanting to be at the hospital along with everyone else. A CISD is immediately planned after word of the officer’s recovery is received. The dispatcher is still waiting to hear how the officer is, still dispatching, is despondent, with no one to turn to.
Dispatchers are emotionally invested in every single call they take, and in every single call they dispatch. They should not be made to feel like outsiders, or like their feelings don’t matter because they weren’t physically on the scene.
Does your agency have a CISD team? Do you include your dispatchers? If the answer is no, isn’t it time you asked why?