by Teresa A. Hamilton, Communications Specialist
You probably don’t remember me but I am the FIRST PERSON you spoke with the day you had an emergency. I apologize that I don’t remember YOU either.
Please help me remember who you are:
Did I help you do CPR on your child not breathing, or were you the one who called because your husband just hit you? Wait, maybe you are the one whose house was on fire and I instructed you to get your loved ones out of the house.
I’m sorry I asked you “so many stupid questions” like what is the address of your emergency or the phone number you are calling from in case we get disconnected. Sadly technology has not advanced to the point where TV land has. There is no magical way for me to know the answers to these questions unless YOU tell me.
Please tell me something, did your child make it? Were your physical injuries very bad and how are you and your husband doing? How bad was your house fire? I did MY best to get you the necessary help you needed in a timely fashion. I ask you these questions because I will never know the answers.
I am the first person you speak with during one of the worst days of your life. I enter all of your important information into my computer and then I send you all the right Emergency Responders to help you with your emergency. Once I finish that I never know what happened to YOU and I move on to the next emergency.
I missed having dinner with my family during the last holiday, and I didn’t see my favorite cousin get married, I couldn’t go see my favorite band last week either so I could be there in case you needed me. Even though it is hard for them, my family and friends understand that I need to be there FOR YOU and they are PROUD of what I do.
So please forgive me if I sounded rude or mean or heatless when you called, I tried my hardest not to. Sometimes it is hard for me to hide my feelings knowing I will always do my best for you but never know if my best was good enough…
I AM A DISPATCHER
Hi, I am really pleased to introduce you to a very good friend of mine and a lady that I really respect for everything she does for her community, her family and her friends. ~ Meet Teresa Hamilton.
1) How long have you been a dispatcher? Did you move into this spot from another position in the same company? What did it take to advance to this spot? Rockland County Sheriffs Communications Division 13 Years, Town of Haverstraw Police Department 10 years, Rockland Mobile Care 3 years
2) Have there been any major changes in the position’s responsibilities/description since you have been in the spot? Since I began working there we have added dispatching the State Police-PIP and Haverstraw EMS, we have implemented EMD and structured call taking.
3) What kind of education or training do you have? Was this current position a goal of yours? What were your original career goals? Education for the position has consisted of Graduating from HS and experience in public safety in addition to successfully passing the Civil Service Exam. Training for the job has included CPR certification and APCO training, Computer Aided Dispatch(CAD). Emergency Services has always been an interest of mine. It started when I was little both of my parents were involved in EMS and my dad was a part time police officer with the Town of Haverstraw Police. I have always worked in the field of Emergency Services. My first job (on my 18th birthday) was with Hudson Valley Ambulance Service in Haverstraw NY. I have always wanted to be a RADIO DJ and at this stage in life, I think this is going to be as close to it as I am going to get.
4) I know you are involved in Emergency Services as a responder (and administrator?) – does this affect you as a dispatcher? Yes How? From the active responder aspect I believe I have an edge over those not currently involved. I am acutely aware of the urgency needed, sometimes I feel I am better able to understand a request from the field under emergent tone, I know how it feels to be in the position of the first responder and understand that I am THEIR reliable source for everything they need. From the stand point of an administrator (Captain of Haverstraw EMS) I know what it is like to be responsible for the TEAM I am overseeing and working with. Although when wearing the dispatcher headset I am not the one in command, I am the one in control.
5) Considering the stress and things you see and hear about as a dispatcher, WHY do you do it? To have the knowledge and ability to HELP in a time of need is in my heart and soul. As the dispatcher I am the true definition of the first first responder. I am the first voice you hear on the worst day of your life (in some cases) and a sounding board for you when you just have to vent. The satisfaction of handling a call from start to finish and knowing in some cases that I made a difference. However the biggest down side to this job is in many cases there is no closure. We seldom know the outcome of the calls we take. So we don’t know if the child not breathing made it or if the person threatening to harm themselves was protected and got help.
6) Considering the stress and things you see and hear about as a responder, WHY do you do it? For many of the same reasons I chose the job I do, as a volunteer responder I have an opportunity first and foremost to give back to my community. I am able to provide quality pre hospital care to the residence of North Rockland who under normal circumstances have a minimum of a 16-20 minute trip to either emergency room in Rockland County. Should they require life saving measures (or just a band aid) I am able to help the healing process. The difference in the 2 roles, as a responder I have the actual hands on and visual ability to render assistance and I have an opportunity to follow up for closure. This allow me to know that I did (or in some cases did not) make a difference.
7) What is your background in Emergency Response that brought you to these positions? Having grown up in a house that ALWAYS had a police scanner on, it always intrigued me listening to the “voice in the box”. I was always fascinated hearing these people giving information about a stolen car or a missing person, sending multiple fire departments to a structure fire, hearing them stay so calm when a high speed police chase is occurring or people are trapped in a burning building. Being a first responder, it was always reassuring to know there was someone able to watch my back who in reality could not see it. I wanted to be THAT PERSON.
8) Is there any one HIGHLIGHT of your dispatching career you would like to mention? Helping a father deliver his son over the phone. I Answered a 9-1-1 call and heard a frantic man on the phone (with a lot of yelling in the background) telling me his wife is having a baby. As I tried to gather information neither he or I could understand one another due to the people in the background. In the heat of the moment I advised him to “tell everyone in the room to shut-up or leave” and that is EXACTLY what he did. We were able to walk thru the necessary steps to bring his FIRST BORN son into the world. Hearing the baby cry and the excitement in his voice was AMAZING. About 10 minutes after EMS was transporting to the hospital, the father called back asking for me. He had forgotten to document what time his son was born and to THANK me for helping. He apologized for not knowing what to do. He said to me, “I’m a NYC Police officer and I am usually on the CALM side of this situation”
9) What has been the most rewarding moment of your involvement in Dispatch and/or emergency response? There are a few moments that stand out from the rest. 3 in particular. The first being a house explosion in the town that I live in and am Captain of the EMS agency. What started as a report of a gas main struck in a residential neighborhood turned into a dispatch of 14 fire departments, 7 EMS agencies, 4 police agencies and a host of new stations and civilians. I dispatched the “signal 20 report of a gas main line struck by a contractor” and subsequently spent the next 5 hours either glued to a chair or pacing the floor in front of the dispatch console. This incident involved members of service that I work hand in hand with and are not only my colleagues but my friends. NOT being there was difficult for me and to make matters worse 2 fire fighters that I know well were injured. The “not knowing” was the hardest part. I left work that day and responded to the scene where I spent the next 8 hours as EMS incident command.
The second was being on the radio dispatching a boating accident in the Hudson River where sadly 2 people lost their lives that night. I was blessed having not answered the 9-1-1- call for this as my partner had the hardest part, he was on the phone with the caller who’s fiancé and best man were thrown from the boat and subsequently lost their lives. My job that night was to provide direction and support to the 3 fire agencies, us coast guard, NYPD aviation unit and various other Emergency Service agencies trying to locate the incident. Although not a positive ending for this call it was rewarding being able to get the help to the area for the surviving passengers in the middle of the Hudson River in the dark.
The third and last was a depressed woman who called the suicide hot line and was transferred to our 9-1-1 center. She was not willing to tell me where she was however was able to tell me that she wanted to end her life. She had hung up on me numerous times and persistence paid off. I was able to “ping” her location using the awesome technology offered by the cellular phone carrier. Followed that up by contacting the cellular phone carrier for a name and address listing for the phone owner. On my last call to her I was able to address her by name, knew what hotel and room she was in and stayed on the phone with her until the police arrived.
10) How does the outside world treat you as a female in this position? I have never really given much thought to how I am treated or perceived as a dispatcher or a 9-1-1 operator. The normal question from people who only know what this job is by the way it is portrayed on TV is, “what is the worst call you have ever answered”. Is this normally a male-dominated spot? I would have to say that this USE TO BE a male-dominated spot and even where I work it is a higher male employed job than female. However once you “prove your ability” I think your gender does not play a role in your performance.
11) What advice would you give to a young woman who might be looking at your type of position/career in the future? Be the Best YOU that you know how to be. This job is not for the weak at heart or the person whose feelings get hurt easily. You have to be able to know your limits. I like to refer to my job as being 7 hours of boredom followed by 1 hour of sheer terror, Although maybe a little dramatic in that description, If you are not able to multi task, or if you are very into “routine” you may not want to do this. You need to be patient, be able to listen and sort out the important details, you have to be able to control a call while assuring to get the necessary help to the caller. Most of all I would have to tell anyone, especially a young woman looking at this position, it is the most rewarding thing I do. Knowing at the end of the day I was there with the knowledge and ability to save a child’s life, help get the resources to a house fire in time, give information to a local police officer to put a criminal to justice or just knowing that EVERYONE WENT HOME at the end of their shift is the MOST REWARDING FEELING I have ever experienced.