One of the universal truths for all 9-1-1 centers is that there will be new people.
In the fire service and some dispatch agencies, these are referred to as “probies”, short for Probationary Employee. Whatever they are called, however, they are the most important resource your agency has, unless you want to continue answering phones until you are well into your eighties or beyond. After all, we can’t keep doing the job forever, so we need to make sure there is a next generation to replace us.
Sadly this process doesn’t go as easily or smoothly as we would like it. An entire book could be written on the process of recruitment, hiring, training, evaluation, and retention (and perhaps it will be). But I would like to keep this short so let’s just focus for a minute on some critical things that the new person needs to know and the people already on the job need to know. If you have additions to this please share.
To Those Already On The Job:
The new person does not arrive fully formed with everything they need to know bestowed by the training process, their life’s experience, or time spent watching Chicago Fire, COPS or even CHiPs. They will only be a successful employee if you provide an environment for them to be successful. Even if you have never seen yourself as a trainer, CTO, or anyone close to having official mentoring responsibilities, the truth is they need you to help them. Be patient, be open-minded, but be firm and fair in the process. Understand that how you treat them in their first weeks and months on the job will have more impact on their career than you can ever imagine.
Do not use the way you were treated as the road-map for how you should treat your new person. Use instead the road map of how you SHOULD have been treated. In dealing with adults this means treating people with respect, appreciation, and understanding. It is not easy to learn new things. Does this mean that every new person should always stay in the job, of course not? Some people will wash out, that is just the way it is. Sadly, many good dispatchers are lost to the poison of bad coworkers. Either they don’t accept them, don’t help them or just don’t care. We are better than that.
If we are a profession, then it means we should support those who come into the profession behind us. Be a resource, be helpful, be kind, and show by example what a great dispatcher can and should be. Even if you never work directly with the new hire, leading by example is a powerful tool for creating our next great generation of Dispatchers. Do your part. Please.
To The New People:
Welcome to one of the world’s greatest professions. You are now part of a family, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Your feelings will get hurt. Get over it. Your opinion may not be welcomed, get over it. You will be expected to be the first person in the center every shift and the last one to leave. Get over it. You will have to learn to quietly listen and take in all that goes on around you, interjecting only when critically necessary. That is as it should be. Accept it. You will be expected to learn and study when others may be taking a break. That is the way it should be. You will never gossip about your coworkers, tell stories “out of school” or badmouth people you work with. Make this truth the first and last thing you say to yourself each day. If you can do these things, the people you work with will come to trust you and you will become a part of the team. The people you work with will become like family. They will help you, support you, take care of you, look out for you and your life will be far more “rich” for knowing them.
This will not be because you completed all the tasks on the checklist. It will not be because your words and opinions prove your worth to the organization. No, your actions and your approach to your job will show others (and yourself) that you belong. Imagine a baseball player who got the highest salary but never hit a home-run. Or a chef who never stepped foot in a kitchen? It’s not what you say that earns you trust or builds your reputation, it is how you work. Show your fellow dispatchers you care by your actions.
Take the time to learn and never stop. Go to the weddings and the funerals. Sign the birthday cards. Bring in food for the shift once in a while. Take part in the important rituals that are part of any great organization. Most of all, learn how to be a great dispatcher. We learn not by speaking, but by listening, watching, showing an interest, and asking questions. This is hard. In this day and age, we want to share our opinion, to stake our claim. This will not endear you to those you work with. In public safety we must often act based on intuition, just knowing what is going on and what is required. In order for intuition to be effective, trust is required. Do everything you can to build that trust– trust of yourself and trust of others– and you will soon find out what many of us have known so long, being a part of the 9-1-1 world is one of the greatest jobs you will ever know.
C. Carver, ENP
This classic, and timeless post by Christopher Carver, ENP, is one that I am proud to put on my little space in the interwebs, for your education and enjoyment. Chris has had a long and reputable career in Public Safety, whose actions and guidance to others likely saved countless lives that will never know or appreciate. Early in 2015, Christopher Blake Carver joined NENA the new PSAP Operations Director. In this role, Carver oversees projects related to current, emerging, and prospective issues affecting 9-1-1 centers. He is someone I consider not only a close colleague in the industry, but a true friend.