Emergency services dispatchers answer emergency and nonemergency calls for fire and police agencies, and ambulance services. Also commonly known as 911 operators, they take information from callers, including the type of emergency and location, in order to dispatch the appropriate response based on established policies and procedures.
Dispatchers may be required to provide medical assistance, suicide or mental health counseling and other guidance over the phone before emergency personnel arrive at the scene. They monitor and track the status of emergency units dispatched to a call and synchronize the response of other area communication centers if needed.
Emergency response personnel use structured interrogations to obtain the necessary details to efficiently and effectively assign resources and issue further instructions.
Typically, dispatchers work in an emergency communication center, also known as a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are required to keep detailed records about the calls they handle and usually use a computer system to log important facts. Dispatchers also may have to monitor alarm systems, and often use crime databases, maps and weather reports to help the emergency response crews they dispatch.
Job Outlook and Salary Range for Emergency Services Dispatchers
As of 2016, there were more than 95,000 fire, police and ambulance dispatchers employed nationwide, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. The median annual wage for those professionals was $38,870, with the top 10% earning more than $61,270. Most dispatchers were employed by local government agencies.
Employment opportunities for emergency services dispatchers are expected to decline by 3% from 2014 to 2024. Although the continuing proliferation of cell phones and smartphones is boosting the volume of calls to emergency communications centers, advanced technology enables centers to serve larger areas without having to add people.
Local market conditions play a role in determining an individual’s earning potential and career opportunities, as does employment history and educational attainment. Bilingual candidates may have enhanced employment prospects.
Education and Training for Emergency Services Dispatchers
Most entry-level positions for emergency services dispatchers require candidates to have at least a high school diploma or GED. However, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a discipline such as communications, criminal justice or computer science may be a requirement for some positions, the BLS notes.
Typical qualities sought in emergency services dispatchers include the capacity to handle multiple tasks, strong problem-solving and leadership skills, and the ability to remain calm under pressure. They should also be able to demonstrate empathy and good listening skills when dealing with callers, some of whom may have psychological problems.
The BLS reports that dispatcher applicants generally must successfully complete a typing test and written assessment, as well as undergo drug and lie detector tests, and a background check. Vision and hearing tests may also be requirements for employment.
Some agencies may require dispatchers to attain certification through in-house programs or from professional associations such as the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials. In addition, certification may help position dispatchers for advancement into management positions.