On February 16th, 1998 I walked into the Greenwood Police Department with 4 years’ experience dispatching private ambulances and volunteer fire departments (at the time I thought that was impressive) to start my career as a 911 Dispatcher. Oh yeah and I was just over 3 months pregnant and wearing one of Tony Napier’s old Greenwood Police shirts in place of a maternity top.
I was trained by the legendary Will Johnson. OK so he may have only been a legend in his own mind but it was either legendary or infamous and I picked legendary because it’s nicer. He had been the same person who, a few years before starting at Greenwood when I worked part-time for the Johnson County Sheriff, saved my ass during my very first vehicle pursuit. I can laugh about it now but I had no clue what the deputies were talking about when they said they were “throwing sticks” at Stones Crossing and 37 – and he just yelled at me to repeat everything they were saying. My first pursuit started with a police officer injured by a suspect who shot him during a traffic stop, the suspect then stole the officer’s squad car and lead multiple agencies in a chase that spanned 4 counties and ended in a car crash and the suspect shooting himself in the head. So for those of you reading this that I’ve trained over the past few years and I tell you to just relax during pursuits they are usually quick and painless….. Ok I lied to make you feel better. And yes I may have panicked a bit during my first one (you can kinda see why right?). But the adrenaline rush after that is what kept me coming back.
I don’t remember exactly what my first 911 call was. I remember still being in training though and getting a 911 call from a lady who said her apartment was on fire and she was out on the balcony. And I was so excited to put out Box 213 on an apartment fire with entrapment. Only to want to die of embarrassment as the firefighters got there and started to rescue her off her balcony then had to chase her down as she went back into the apartment and out her front door to go down and meet them. She had burnt something on the stove and was only out on the balcony because of the bad smell in her apartment. ASK MORE QUESTIONS…. Check.
From that point on that particular apartment complex and fire runs became my nemesis. Many years later when there was a real fire and I got a frantic 911 call from a lady hysterically yelling at me in Spanish and I’m trying to tell her to exit the apartment by saying “Vamanos” (Dora the Explorer was the only thing coming to mind at the time – don’t judge). What she was yelling at me hysterically in Spanish was that she was in fact trapped… on her balcony… and couldn’t get out. Irony sucks.
I spent most of my career at Greenwood with Cathy, Patty and Pam from 2pm to 10pm. We did a lot to entertain ourselves during those hours. Once we started a “snowball fight” with the Sheriff’s dispatchers during a snowstorm – when citizens were calling in asking about road conditions we’d transfer them to the Sheriff’s department. Once the Sheriff’s dispatchers caught on…. Well let’s just say they ended up winning the fight. That probably sounds awful to Joe Q Citizen who is reading this… but it was well over 10 years ago so statute of limitations has no doubt run out and it was snowing…. The road conditions are SNOW COVERED.
After Pam left… we got Mike. Reflecting back it was probably a REALLY bad idea to put the two of us together. There were multiple times I had to go pick up dinner orders placed under various cartoon characters names… and sometimes worse depending on what I may or may not have done to irritate him that day. Nothing more exciting than going to the Chinese restaurant and having to say you’re Betty Rubble or Flintstone Simpson (sometimes he got creative)… really. Then there’s trying to dispatch a heart attack with someone making faces and funny noises in the background or beeping into to your computer with an IM message – or 10. He reminded me not to long ago about the time we had three dispatchers so he and I both left and walked over to Mrs. Curl and the Police Chief got in line behind us – that was frowned upon. And yes… we really did get into near knock down drag out fights on multiple occasions to put out fire runs. Once when there were two fire runs at the same time and we were arguing over who got Engine 93 he literally used the “your shoes untied” trick to get me to look away from the computer long enough for him to start the alerting for the engine. And to think I’ve actually MISSED him the past 4 and half years. I know it seems I got the short end of the stick in some of the scenarios above but in all those years of picking up dinner for Barbie Jetson I wonder if his credit card company ever asked him if his real middle name is Fallullah.
I used to throw things in dispatch when I’d get frustrated with callers but I had to quit doing that after one night my pen took a bad bounce and nearly took out Pam’s left eye. There are warnings on BB guns but maybe ballpoint pen makers should consider them as well. The funny thing about coming in at 2pm was – you could always tell if you were getting in to trouble at the start of the shift just by pulling into the parking lot and seeing how many day shift dispatchers were still there. And yes somewhere there is an evaluation from “Boo Boo” that says “does not play well with others.” I’d like to point out based on the previous examples that I do to play well with others.
When I left Greenwood I found a new group of people – 911 dispatchers are the same all over and soon enough I had earned a host of new nicknames (Greenwoot, Perry, Andre – thanks to a typo, Banana and oddly enough the Director calls me HEIDI). Those are the nice ones… Mr. Joyner, Mr. Lantz and Mr. Tatman. There is a long-standing joke that I plan on hijacking the senior citizens bus parked at the station on the weekends and turn it into a taco food truck called TACOCAT. One Christmas Jen put my hair in a “Snookie” bump and the whole shift painted our nails with glitter nail polish – even Disbro. And on another Christmas I received a Perry Township Fire Dept. t-shirt coinciding with my “Perry” nickname. And I have won [fabulous] prizes for my costumes during Telecomunicator Week – my favorite though was making the “Thing” shirts with Debbie and having our supervisor Pam dress up as the Cat in the Hat. And I dearly miss Tracy’s Saturday morning no-calorie Belgium Waffles and biscuits and gravy and cookies and… well anything Tracy makes.
The first complaint I received as a HCCC fire dispatcher came from my husband. That was fun. It will make a nice Christmas story to tell our grandkids someday – I’m almost sure it will. My first shift working as a police dispatcher at HCCC without a training wheels (Greg’s nickname for his trainers) a bank got robbed in Avon, then the very next shift 3 days later a second bank got robbed – yes I was the police dispatcher then too. Some people just have all the luck. Just this past Christmas Day the gal working police dispatch asked if I could watch the radio while she left the room for a minute – sure it’s 7am on Christmas Day (insert zzzzz). Wake up… there’s a car in pursuit… really?!?! That pursuit ended better than my first – as have all my pursuits since that first one.
Training new employees became one of my favorite things to do at HCCC. Training Matt Payne garnered my trademark saying of “Off with Their Heads!” and lead me to the title “Queen of Plainfield.” And I’ll never forget him turning on his mute switch during a call and asking me if I was paying someone to call in because the request on the other end of the line was so outer limits ridiculous he thought it had to be fake. It was not. Thanks to Amanda B. she and all my fire trainees were rewarded with Swedish Fish when they did well. It takes skill to make a CAD command sound like a seal bark – and like the seals at SeaWorld I figured she should get a fish as a reward. My absolute favorite though, was the day Greg was doing everything he could to keep my spirits up during a particularly bad moment. “Everything” included him rocking out to a Taylor Swift song – and getting caught by the Deputy Director doing so. I still laugh when I remember the look on his face.
Those are just some of the reasons why leaving is so hard.
But four and half years ago when I walked away from Greenwood, not going to lie I was disheartened and if I’m being truly honest – tired of dispatching. That should have been my Swan Song – leaving Greenwood. But I decided to go to a new 911 center, and I did pretty well for myself, I became a trainer, an assistant supervisor… and finally a supervisor. But even with the advancements I kept circling back to being tired of dispatching. I can’t really even give an explanation as to why – it really hit me this past summer when after a bad shift I came home and that light bulb that flickers a bit above my head became very bright. Last year my son gave up playing baseball much to me and my husband’s dismay. He was good – very good – like a college coach told me he was Division 1 good. But he quit. He hated it. Well I’m not sure he hated it, but he was tired of it. And until that night last summer I never understood how you can be really good at something but not want to do it. To be honest, I don’t even remember what had happened that made that one shift so bad that it turned the light bulb on, but I just remember coming home and seeing Dawson and thinking “Oh I get the baseball thing now.”
And I can brag…. Yes I’m good at what I do. Like Division 1 good. And I’m actually at the top of my game and it makes no sense to leave – but that’s what I’m doing. It’s time.
How have I survived 17 years….
There’s no crying in dispatch. Callers and other dispatchers smell fear so always be confident – even if you aren’t. Do you job with the mindset that you don’t want to ever end up explaining to Anderson Cooper ‘what went wrong.’ It’s wrong to send the officer who was a jerk earlier to you to EVERY parking problem and barking dog complaint you can find – but it happens. It’s also wrong to tell the Suzy Q Citizen that there’s never been a cat skeleton in a tree – send the fire truck to rescue Fluffy-it makes the fire guys look good. It’s more fun to pretend that the 100th person calling in about the traffic light that’s not working is the first caller than to get irritated that 100 people have called – treat them like they just won the lottery, it won’t hit them until way later that you we’re probably just messing with them. It’s OK to rapidly disconnect from the person calling to complain about the traffic back up when you know the fire department is working at a feverish pace to cut the family of four out of their minivan – they don’t need an explanation beyond people are injured. Mrs. Kravitz (think Bewitched) doesn’t need to know why there are police cars at her neighbor’s house – if they choose to share that’s their business. Dogs, kids and phones do not understand the concept of night shift – repeatedly explaining it to them doesn’t help. You can come up with brilliant ideas at 3am if you have enough coffee – or you can just blast through all your lives on Candy Crush and Farm Hero Saga. Never think you have seen or heard it all – you have not. You’re not really an evil person but the things we are forced to listen to everyday will eventually convince you that you are – you are actually the opposite of evil. You also have a heart – trust me it’s buried down there somewhere underneath all of the layers of insulation you’ve piled on to protect it from the things you deal with every day. Finally…. Be good at what you do even when you don’t want to.
#kthnxbye #deuces #byefelica