Closing the Book as a Dispatcher

It’s been awhile since my last article, and this is a difficult one to write. I just ended my 27-year career as a dispatcher, and the “after” life is something foreign and terrifying to me.

My career in dispatching began out of an old janitor’s closet, in a small, rural township, where I would laugh every time I heard myself on the radio. I still remember the chief (may he rest in peace) saying, “Tell her she sounds great, but she needs to stop laughing on the radio.”

Dispatching took me through another township, a city, a children’s hospital, a state highway patrol, a large consolidated center, to an airport. I loved it all; the crazy, busy times, and the chaos. Moreover, I loved my nickname, “Little Princess Dark Cloud.”

My steadfast goal was to make a difference, to make sure all my people went home safely at the end of the shift, and to never lose my empathy.

voices

I used to do a lot of ride-alongs with my officers, in part because I always wanted to be a police officer, and in part because it made me better at my job. Consequently, I wanted to understand what happened on their side of the radio, so I could be the best for them on my side.

I was waiting in an officer’s cruiser one night while she did a bar check, as a drive-by shooting occurred on the road next to me. I called her back outside and told her, and she was just incredulous. “Why didn’t you put it out over the radio???” I told her I panicked and didn’t know what to do. “You’re a dispatcher! Dispatch it!!” I was out of my comfort zone! (By the way, no one was hurt.)

I have 27 years of memories – friendships, funerals, retirements, funny calls, heartbreaking cries and screams, shootings, suicides, domestics, fires, accidents, pursuits, fights, tornadoes, hurricanes, robberies, rapes. As a result, I don’t know that there is anything that I didn’t experience, and that is both a blessing and a curse.

I am left with the memories of those I saved, and those that I didn’t. I am left with PTSD, and triggers, and nightmares, and anxiety. And yet, it is still something that is tremendously difficult to give up.

There’s no fanfare, there’s no retirement, there’s no “thanks for your service.” It’s just gone. I have identified myself as a great dispatcher and a great mom for so long, with one of those removed, I’m left to question, what am I now? Who am I now? Where do I go from here?

dispatchers remember

I want to thank Law Enforcement Today for allowing me to write and give a voice to dispatchers.

A good dispatcher is worth his/her weight in gold, and yet still forgotten. Dispatchers are the last to be thanked, but the first to be blamed.

Officers, firefighters and paramedics are first on the scene, and they see the chaos and the horror and the panic.

Dispatchers hear it. They hear the fear, and it never goes away. There is no preparation before you answer the phone, or before you hear what comes over the radio. Remember that even the best dispatcher has scars that you will never see. It’s an unwritten rule that you don’t admit that you even have them.

After 27 years, the one wish I still have is for dispatchers to receive more recognition. Thank those who make your job easier, those that get you back home to your family every day, those that don’t get thanked. They will appreciate it more than you know.

– Lara