In my own words

Closing the Book as a Dispatcher

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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

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Author
larasue

After growing up in my father’s Italian restaurant, I began a 27-year career as a police, fire and EMS dispatcher. Now living along the coast of North Carolina, I am enjoying writing, my pet sitting business, and being the executive director of our local merchant association. I will always advocate for dispatcher recognition, the acknowledgement of mental stress on dispatchers, and all first responders. 

18 Comments

Always hear ‘Free admittance for First Responders’ which is a great thing….but somehow it doesn’t include Dispatchers. We’d like to Thank the First Responders, again a great thing, but not thanking the Dispatchers. This Woman writing this article and experiencing these things, happens to be my Daughter. Just so you and she knows, she is and always has been MUCH more than a great Mom and an amazing Dispatcher. Myself, like hundreds of thousands of regular people never realize how important these people are to our everyday lives. That is-until you need to call 911 for something. They are warm, kind, helpful, supportive, informative, and they take a bunch of crap from stressed out frightened callers. They truly are the “First First Responders”. Thank you Lara and Thank You Dispatcher everywhere for all the heart and soul you give every minute to all who are in desperate need.

Everything you said was spot on!
I was a dispatcher for 18 years and felt I could’ve written those very words. It takes a special type of person to do what we did.
I will say to you… thank you for your service and writing this article.

Beautifully written!! I too feel like a part of me is missing since I’ve been gone from the 911 world! I do love my new dispatch job, not the same, but still making a difference. I’m glad I had the pleasure of working with you.

Well done! Thank you for your service! You have earned some time to relax. Enjoy!

Well said and spot on. I was a dispatcher for 29 years, CONGRADULATIONS on a great career that few Wil ever really know or understand except those of us that are or were the thin gold line

Lara, First, Congratulations on a great career and your decision to retire. NEVER ask, “what am I now? Who am I now? Where do I go from here?”. You will always be a Dispatcher in your heart and the skill you practiced for so many years will serve as the basis for what life has in store for. God Bless you and Best of Luck!

Thanks for sharing and congratulations Lara on your retirement. I retired last summer from the Fire Service and have really been loving this next step in the career. Yes the commeraderie and shift banter is missed, as is the black humour but doing what you want on your schedule and being home every night with the family trumps that.
Join some social groups of similar minded people to help keep banter going. Start picking things off your list, you will find there are not enough hours in the day. Reconnect with past colleagues that we didn’t have time for in the past and seriously stop and smell the roses since we have time!
You are right, good Dispatchers are worth their weight in Gold and totally under appreciated. Thanks for your service and wishing you great health and many adventures!

First of all … THANK YOU for your service!!! I too recently retired after 31 years of dispatching. You are right…. we struggle with the real fears of …. who are we…. what do we do… and it is very real for the PTSD struggles
Good luck for your future!!!

Congratulations on your retirement and thank you for the articles you have written. I looked forward to them coming out because I felt a kinship with the writer, you. After 30 years I retired with PTSD as well as an identity crisis! It will take you few years but you will find life after dispatching. Take time to stop and smell the flowers and listen to the birds. Thank you for your service you impactedmany lives. Enjoy 🌹

Thank you for your years of service and the words you’ve written. I retired at 28 yrs and have been struggling with this for a couple years. Feel like I’ve lost a part of me but am piecing it back together.

Hi Lara,

Thank you for your service! I’m sure to say that to every service person I see! You are correct in saving you deserve the same recognition! My mom was a dispatcher for as long as I can remember. She served at many agencies in her career. I followed in her footsteps for about 8 years as an CSO assigned to property and evidence. I have seen many things I’d rather forget, but many things that are nice to remember as well. My mom passed away in January 2006. I often think of how the 911 call must have been dispatched. I wrote a thank you letter to the fireman that appeared at the scene and to the dispatcher that was on duty. I will never know if they received my notes, I can only hope they did. I told them that I know they did the best that they could, it was her time to go. My mom was driving her vehicle at the time, she had a heart attack and pulled into her driveway leaving the vehicle running. The neighbors called 911 then my brother who lived in town. My mom probably knew if she’d leave the car running that help would come. She’d be happy to know the dispatcher responded as soon as possible. Please enjoy your retirement! You deserve every minute. I’m sure that the people you helped thought out your years think of you more than you will ever know!

Sincerely,

Denise

Lara, 1st off – Thank you for your many many years of service. In a profession where burn out is between 5-10 years, you are a TRUE professional and dedicated soul. Now enjoy your retirement, you’ve earned it! It may take a year or two to be comfortable with retirement, you will always miss your co-workers, officers, firefighters, EMT’s. But there are always visits and functions to attend. You might find that you appear to be busier than when you were working, I think it’s just because we have the time to do the things we put off for so long. Lastly, you are still YOU! Maybe just a different and bit more carefree you.. Congrats and enjoy! (retired 5+ yrs ago after 30)

There is life after the uniform. I retired after 37 years in EMS. I’ve dated a few dispatchers over the years. I understand the satisfaction and the feelings of helplessness. You don’t see or physically deal with the patients, but you are an invaluable part of the chain. You heal with your voice you calm and hold the hands, remotely, of people who may be experiencing the worst moments of their lives. But you are frustrated by limitations. A dear friend saved her own son’s life from drowning by talking someone through CPR. Another took a call from a firefighter who was explaining where to find his body before he shot himself due to PTSD. I loved my dispatchers and understand their struggles.I learned to accept my ghosts. You must also.Most importantly enjoy life. Skydive, Dance, Embrace family and friends. Remember how important you are. Have fun. All the best.

Ditto to what everyone else has already said, I will be retiring in Dec. after 35 yrs & my friend/co-worker will be leaving at the same time after 30 yrs. I guess it’s just an occupational hazard how dispatchers are not remembered as well as the officers and fire fighters who make direct contact with the public. Being a dispatcher isn’t even a career that children name when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up. Something we need to enlighten them about!! It is an exciting & rewarding career. We know there is a life after law enforcement but when you have been doing it more than half your life or almost that long, it’s a hard concept to grasp. For all of us doing this job THANK YOU!!! And for those of you still doing it after some of us leave, THANK YOU, GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY!!!

I like you have been doing this for 20+ years. I have heard the calls and dispatched them out. From the cries for help in a domestic situation to the fears following a robbery or an assault. I can pick up a reflection in an officers voice to know that something is not right. Your article is spot on. We are the forgotten child. The first to blame the last to thank. So congratulations on your retirement and THANK YOU for maybe shedding some light on the forgotten members.

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