Monday, November 28, 2011

Dispatch Follies

Here we are, almost to the end of the month, and I've kept up with the NaBloPoMo thing. Not only that, but a few folks have even stopped by to read, thanks to Michael over at Rescuing Providence. Word has it he has a new book coming out next week, so be sure to stop by his blog and order a copy or two. I can't wait to see it!

Today as I was wandering the web, my attention was brought to this post over at Unit Calling Central. It's about dispatchers.

I love our dispatchers. Really I do.
But  I have to admit that sometimes, things happen that are pretty funny, and other times, things happen that aren't so funny at all. I like to think that I'm fairly open minded, and give credit where it is due, so I'm not saying that everything is the fault of the dispatcher. Unit Calling had some great suggestions for the general public; I'd like to add a couple of suggestions for the dispatchers.

The best part, by far, of what we've come to call the dispatcher follies is the things they say sometimes that clearly didn't come from any training manual. Like describing a patient as "wigging out." Or the time we heard an ambulance sent to an "eight month old pregnant lady." I'm okay with these, most of the time. They amuse me, and aren't hurting anyone or delaying care.

Also slightly amusing are times when things get a little mixed up, with slips of the tongue misidentifying people and places, but I can't list any here that would make sense to anyone without a lot of explanation about what makes them funny. These also don't usually cause any problems, and are just funny.

And then there are the things that aren't so amusing.
Like calls where we are sent to locations miles from where the incident actually is. As mentioned in the post that got me thinking about this today, this one usually isn't the fault of the dispatcher, it's because people don't know where they are, and/or can't be bothered to stop. The dispatcher can't see through the phone to be able to confirm the location really is where the person says they are.

Likewise, calls where what the dispatcher says is happening, and what is actually happening, bear little to no resemblance to each other, are often because the dispatcher can only go by what they are told, and sometimes the patient, or the family member or bystander, really don't know what is going on. I can't blame anyone for that one, except to wish that people, in general, had more understanding of things and a knowledge of basic first aid.

That leaves the two issues I have with dispatchers that I really do think could be improved.  One, by having better SOPs, and the other, by better training.

Now that Radio Reference exists, I don't need an expensive scanner in order to be able to listen in on the radio system. I can listen online, and I often do. It is interesting how quickly I adapted to it and can have it on in the background, and then perk up instantly when something gets my attention. Did you know that even when radio communications are so garbled that you can't understand a word, the rhythm of "mayday, mayday, mayday" still comes through, clear as a bell? Likewise, a cop in a jam calling for backup is pretty recognizable as "out of the ordinary" sounding. But mostly, it's any mention of my tiny town that catches my ear.

What that translates to is that we often hear radio chatter about calls out here before we get toned out, especially if there is going to be law enforcement involvement. The cops nearly always get told first. I'm okay with that. But what really bothers me is this: the cops get told a LOT more information that we do. They go into the situation having some idea what is going on, most of the time. We get an address, and told to stage. They don't bother telling us about the knife, or the threats, or whatever.

WTF? Why would they do that? It makes me crazy, whether it's for one of our calls, or any of the other agencies in the county. I've been known to swear at the scanner/computer, when I know a friend of mine has just been sent into a situation without all the available information. TELL THEM ABOUT THE GUN, ALREADY!  Sometimes, once we are in the rescue, we can radio and ask for any further information, but what about people who go directly to the scene? They don't have radios, and I swear it often feels like the dispatchers forget that. Why they somehow think that only the chiefs need certain information, I will never understand, especially because most of the time, our chiefs don't show up at EMS calls. They don't need the information at all. WE do.

The other dispatcher error that has elicited a variety of colorful language is when they send the wrong rescue to a call. Our tiny department has a sister tiny department. The names of the two departments are similar. The main roads through the two towns have similar (but not identical) names as well. For some reason, there is one dispatcher in particular who can't seem to get it that they are two DIFFERENT places. The whole reason there are two is because between us is only dirt roads and steep hills. Try flying over those in the winter. Some of the time, we can't get over there, and they can't get over here.

And yet.
We'll get toned and told to go to a location clearly in their response area.
Or they will get toned to go to a call across the street from my house.
I've lost count of the number of times I've called dispatch in the middle of the night to tell them it's not our call, and to please tone the correct department.

I think this one would be best solved during a blinding snow storm. Bring that dispatcher out here to our station, and make them drive to the other one. I think that would make it clear that it's pretty important which one is sent to a call.

So those are my suggestions to dispatch.
1. Please give us all the available pertinent information. The presence of weapons is pertinent. And by "us," I mean the people who are responding, not just the officers. I'm pretty sure you must be at least beginning to notice that it is nearly always the same people responding- and it's not the chiefs. Maybe that isn't the typical situation everywhere- but it is, here.
2. Please learn where things are in the county. It matters, and it's not that big. Add something to your training that pays particular attention to the various places that have similar names, and even more to the instances of the SAME names in different locations. I can give you a list of the most frequently confused, if you like. If I know them... why don't you?

I'll close by adding that I've also heard our dispatchers keep their cool in some pretty hairy, stressful situations. They work together well, and I'm glad we have them. My suggestions are in no way meant to suggest that they aren't professional; they are. But everyone, everywhere, has room for improvement, and often, if you don't bring something to their attention, they may not realize there is an issue.

ps. Do keep saying the occasional really funny off-the-script things. Sometimes, it's just the laugh I need.

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