By Richard Bleil
Today, a friend of mine (yes, I have a friend) finally landed a job. She has been needing a job for far too long, and while I’m glad she finally found one, I’m also worried about her. The job is dispatch caller.
This brings to mind so many behind-the-scenes heroes that we, as a society, tend to forget. The job of dispatch is excessively stressful and difficult, and often employees just don’t last in the job very long. If you’ve ever imagined how great this job would be, imagine taking calls with few breaks continuously for hours at a time. Imagine every call you take being a panicking individual with a medical, police or fire emergency. Imagine frightened people, or people in pain, without patience taking it out on the call center person. Imagine hearing horrific stories of death, murder, child abuse, rape, people trapped in fires on a nearly daily basis. Imagine being on the phone with somebody in extreme danger and being cut off unexpectedly, not knowing if somebody somewhere is still alive, or being beaten to death, or dead.
Does it still sound like fun?
We often think of police, firemen and doctors in heroic terms, and they deserve it. Who doesn’t love a fire fighter, a buff, young, glistening young body walking slow motion away from a raging fire behind him as if every fire fighter in the world exactly fits this image (they don’t). It’s harder to love a police officer, knowing the authority they have to pull you over and make you accountable for doing something you shouldn’t be, weaving in traffic or speeding, but without whom the safety of the general public would be in danger. While police and fire fighters do risk their lives (although between the two, one group risks their lives all night long while the other gets to sleep while waiting for a call), doctors are rarely in danger themselves, but they have spent a significant amount of time to learn to help save people.
But, who thinks of the people who support them?
This might seem a bit self-serving since, as a forensic laboratory director for a police department, I was one of these support persons, but in reality, the role of the forensic director is dirty but relatively small. Yes, I went to some scenes that I wish I could burn out of my memory, but I also had the opportunity to work with the marvelous men and women who were “non-sworn” or “civilian” employees.
The reality is that anybody who works in the emergency services (or, at least for the police which is my experience) is working in a toxic environment. They are all friends with the police, firefighters and doctors who often see horrific things on a regular basis, and just like any other human being, they need to unload this stress. This is probably a significant reason why divorce rates in these professions are so high. Getting home after working with a baby that, based on bruises and injuries, it’s clear that somebody grabbed the baby by its legs and swung it slamming it against a wall is enough to get to anybody (one of the memories I would like to delete). This stress, pain, and frustration can easily be buried long enough to get home where the venting will occur.
In addition, these are also the face of these emergency services. I think of the civilian employee that acted as my administrative assistant, and what she had to deal with. Somebody who is angry because they were arrested in the first place (it can never be their own fault for breaking the law; it must be the fault of the police officers and detectives who caught them), just getting out of prison, picking up their possessions (which was kept in the warehouse which was part of the evidence section that housed the forensic lab), and who will they yell at for this terrible injustice? My assistant, of course.
These men and women help to loosen to burden on the officers out on the streets. They’ll help fill in the paperwork that they can, do the filing and more, and all of this takes the jobs off of the shoulders of the officers. There are some things they cannot do; the officers have to fill out their own reports, they have to fill out some forms such as the evidence chain of custody forms, but their work would be far more challenging were it not for the civilian employees.
In short (I know, too late), I would just like to acknowledge the great work of these civilian employees, and give my own personal thanks.