In this episode of Beyond the 1st Response Christy and Robyn talk to Debbie Green, a retired Public Safety Dispatcher 2 who wants to let everyone know the time has come to not stay quiet about mental health.
Debbie admits that she would often picture the scene much worse than it was. Dispatchers don’t deal with just one call, they could be listening to up to 100 calls a day, rarely having the peace of mind knowing the outcome. The industry still does not recognize the amount of training it takes to prepare for a dispatching career.
Each call has two dispatchers assigned. The “Call Taker” is speaking with the caller and the “Radio People” are relaying pertinent information to the police or fire. Most everything is communicated via text making it even more difficult to assure they are processing the information needed for the call. It’s a legal document so you have to remove your emotion to get through the call. Talk about stress….
During the time of “suck it up and move on” no tools we offered to help their mental state after a call. Debbie goes on to share an example; after an officer was shot, her attempts to relieve the dispatchers on the call allowing them to take a break and walk away were met with an emphatic no and to make matters worse, the dispatchers were back at the job the next day. Debbie’s only way to cope was to simply sit back, take a deep breath, and move onto the next call. “That is not processing, that is removing the emotion.”
Peer Support Now
According to Debbie, peer support has come a long way than when her department first implemented the team in 2015. Back then, they called the debriefing a kumbaya and even that was days later. Dispatchers would have to request peer support resources, it wasn’t automatically offered and definitely frowned upon to accept.
Quiet No More
Debbie’s breaking point was in 2019 when she dispatched a call on which one of her officers was shot and killed. The events that followed are what prompted her to take the motto of being quiet no more. Now an outspoken advocate for first responder mental health she makes sure to focus on dispatchers, the often forgotten ones.
What Should we do Different?
- Give dispatchers the tools to properly process the emotions that come with the calls
- Find a therapist in your area. Check out 1st Help Resources
- Create a routine to help you decompress before and after a call
- Implement a wellness program within the department
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