HOLBROOK – As part of National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, Director Steve Hooke and the Holbrook Regional Emergency Communication Center (HRECC) would like to present a series of informational messages to help teach the public about what the members of the HRECC do on a daily basis, including more about the staff who work there and their varied responsibilities.
Each day this week, the HRECC will present a different question and answer to highlight the vital role its staff members play in the communities the HRECC serves.
Question: What is a typical day like for a telecommunicator at the HRECC?
A telecommunicator wears many hats. By taking calls from people in an emergency and dispatching the appropriate first responders to a scene, they often serve as the first point of contact between the public and police officers and firefighters. But there is a wide range of services these departments provide, and thus there are many different reasons a telecommunicator might receive a call.
And beyond dispatching, telecommunicators are also highly-trained to offer life-saving medical instructions in addition to providing accurate public safety information to callers.
What this all adds up to is a simple fact any telecommunicator will admit to: There is no such thing as a “typical” day on the job.
“The sky’s the limit when it comes to what calls we take. It can range anywhere from a 911 hang-up to dealing with people threatening to take their own life,” said Dan Hart, a telecommunicator supervisor at the HRECC. “And for us, we have to treat each and every call the same, and be prepared for anything and everything. Even the ones where the callers claim it was an accident we still have to call back and verify, because you just never know.”
Peter Bagdon has 20-plus years of experience in the public safety field, and currently splits his time between the HRECC and a neighboring dispatch center. He said the level of unpredictability is one of the things that makes being a telecommunicator stressful, but it’s also what makes it interesting.
“You need to be able to shift gears and adapt to the emergency. The way you’ll speak to an elderly person in distress is a lot different than the way you’d talk to a 7-year-old who might be making the first phone call of their life,” Bagdon said. “It’s all about putting yourself in their shoes, and treating people based on their specific needs at the time.”
Hart, who joined the HRECC in 2012 and was promoted to supervisor last July, says the calls involving children can be some of the most difficult. While there is training to prepare telecommunicators for a variety of different situations, learning how to handle the stress is something that comes with time and experience.
Because of the stress of the job, finding time to unwind and relax when off duty can be one of the most important things a telecommunicator can do.
“Self-care is absolutely essential,” Hart said. “This job can wear you down and start to get to you pretty easily, so you need to take time for yourself and lean on your fellow telecommunicators when needed.”
In fact, that teamwork among telecommunicators is another crucial aspect of the job.
“You need to lay all your cards out on the table to make sure nothing gets missed,” Hart said. “The person sitting to your left or right is in the same boat as you, and you need to make sure you can count on them. And the same goes for the first responders in the field, as we all work together to make sure every situation gets resolved as safely and efficiently as possible.”
Bagdon has been working in the emergency services field since the day after he graduated from Brockton High School 20 years ago, and has experienced all sorts of calls during that time. He said that while the nature of some calls has always been the same, such as people in distress, medical emergencies and fires, the advances in technology in recent years have been a game-changer for how telecommunicators provide service.
“Not too long ago, if someone wasn’t calling from a landline you might not be able to know where they were calling from, and we would have to rely on them giving us directions to their location,” Bagdon said. “Now we can pinpoint people’s exact locations instantly. It’s just one of the many ways technology has changed the landscape of the job, and has made us able to help more people more efficiently.”
For Bagdon and other HRECC telecommunicators, the rewards of the job far outweigh the stress.
“It’s a very good feeling knowing you played a part in helping someone, possibly even saving their life,” he said. “It’s a multi-tiered response, between telecommunicators, police and fire departments, EMS, and the community members we serve. For so many moving parts to come together is extremely rewarding, and it’s why we do what we do.”
Every year during the second week of April, dispatchers and telecommunications personnel in the public safety community are honored as part of National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week.
This year, National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week 2020 takes place from April 12-18.
This week-long event, which first began in 1981 by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in California, has grown into a nationwide celebration to recognize and thank those who dedicate their lives to serving the public as telecommunicators.
For more information, visit www.npstw.org.