Emergency Services Dispatchers


Exploring this Job

There are many ways to learn about a career as an emergency services dispatcher. First, visit http://www.911.gov/about_national_911program.html to learn about the 911 system. Read trade journals such as Public Safety Communications (http://psc.apcointl.org) and the Journal of Emergency Dispatch (http://www.iaedjournal.org) to learn more about the field. Consider joining a law enforcement or fire service explorer post during high school to learn more about careers in these areas. Organizations such as Learning for Life (https://www.exploring.org/health-care), which is affiliated with the Boy Scouts, offer programs that allow young people to explore emergency services careers. Some of these programs might provide you with an opportunity to explore work as a dispatcher or, at minimum, provide the opportunity to speak with dispatchers about their careers.   

SkillsUSA (http://www.skillsusa.org) is a national membership organization for middle school, high school, and college students who are interested in pursuing careers in skilled service, technical, and trade careers. It offers competitions that allow young people to test their skills against others. Recent contests of interest to aspiring EMT's include Basic Health Care Skills, First Aid/CPR, Health Knowledge Bowl, and Medical Terminology. 

The Job

Heart attacks. Car crashes. Mass shootings. Four-alarm fires. An abducted child. A tornado ripping through a small town. These are just a few of the types of calls emergency services dispatchers (ESDs) might receive during a typical shift in a 911 center (which is also called a communication center or a public safety answering point). As what many call the “first first responders,” ESDs have a wide variety of duties, including:

  • Answering 911 emergency telephone and alarm system calls and, sometimes, non-emergency calls
  • Asking the caller questions to determine his or her location and the nature of the emergency, and then making a quick assessment to determining what action is appropriate; ESDs often use guide cards that feature an approved set of questions for a particular issue, such as a suspected heart attack, to help in their assessments
  • Coordinating the dispatch of emergency responders by using computer-aided dispatch software and two-way radios
  • Providing basic medical instructions to callers until first responders can arrive
  • Monitoring the status of police, ambulance, and fire units in the field to provide additional information and ensure their safety, determine the availability of other units, and deploy back-up when necessary
  • Utilizing state and national crime reporting systems to provide information to first responders
  • Maintaining detailed computer records of phone calls and actions taken
  • Monitoring and operating TDD/TYY technology to communicate with hearing-impaired callers