Almost everyone has heard of the #IAM911 movement, where dispatchers and call takers from around the world share their most touching, personal, and emotional experiences of dealing with life saving and gut wrenching situations. This recent movement and call to attention to the profession has brought a lot of support, and on the contrary, has shed light on the uneducated population who consider 911 dispatchers as secretaries. This population of people who believe 911 operators to be secretaries not only include members of the general public, but also our own Union lists us as Clerical employees. As described by Study.com, a clerical employee “provides general support that assists in the functioning in the company. They might work directly under an administrative assistant and be assigned basic tasks, such as fling or answering phones.”
Let’s analyze this definition a little more closely in comparison to what dispatchers/call takers actually do. The initial part of this definition reads, “..provides general support that assists in the functioning of the company.”. We do not provide “general support”, we ARE the company. We ARE the police department. Without us, how do you think officers, fire departments, and ambulances know where to go? Who do you think would answer the phone if we were afforded Holidays off like the rest of the actual, properly labeled, clerical employees? Hmm, maybe you think officers themselves would answer the phones? But then who would be available to be dispatched? Without us being here to simply answer phones, the whole “company” and city would fall apart. I doubt that would happen if a phone went unanswered at the desk of a true secretary.
Moving on to the next part of the definition, “They might work directly under an administrative assistant…”. Yeah, we work under an administrative assistant, who also happens to get Holidays off. So why don’t we? Is it perhaps because we are considered “essential employees” to the City we serve and don’t have the luxury of spending the holidays with out family because the office is closed? But we are secretaries, are we not? I’m confused.
Lastly, we are “…assigned basic tasks, such as filing or answering phones.” Sure, we answer phones, in life or death situations. Answering the phone to speak with a customer about their account is a lot different than answering the phone for someone who just got shot in the face, but hey, that’s just my opinion.
We may go through a lot of the same motions that secretaries and clerical employees go through, but we are NOT the same. Sure, I send emails. The last email I sent was for a ping on a 15 year old girls cellphone because she had posted a “goodbye letter” on her social media and was threatening suicide. But yeah, I send emails just like secretaries do. Yes, I answer phones. The last phone call I answered was a female who had just been beat up by her husband as her 3 year old watched her bleeding from the head. But suuuure, you could say we just answer phones.
I may be preaching here, but I WILL correct someone every damn time when I hear about us being secretaries. We have just as much of a right to be labeled First Responders as police, fire, and EMS do. We are the first on the scene. Just because we aren’t physically there, doesn’t mean we are never there at all. Yes, officers and other first responders are physically there and deal with the situation in person, however, before that first responder walked into that room to cut that suicidal teenager down from the rope, I was on the phone with him, pleading with him not to do it. I listened to him fighting for his last breaths of life. I listened to the stab victim as he choked on his own blood. I was on the phone when a mother discovered her 3 month old not breathing. To this day, I don’t know if any of those people lived or not. We don’t get closure. All we get is another call, with another victim.
Before any of you who get all hurt and think that I am insinuating that dispatchers/call takers are better than secretaries, that is not what I am saying at all. I am simply comparing the two professions and discussing how they are NOT the same, at all, not even a little bit. I’m sure a secretary would not appreciate being compared to a construction worker, or a construction worker to a car salesman, or a call salesman to a librarian. No one likes to put their heart into anything and be labeled something so far off from what they actually do. Especially when you save lives and are labeled as someone who just answers the phone.
For all of you who think that dispatchers are not also first responders, the next time you or someone you love gets into a bad car accident, your brother threatens to kill himself, your significant other beats the hell out of you, you get car jacked, or anything else, I can guarantee the first thing that comes to your mind is not, “Hurry, call the secretary!” We are police, fire, EMS. We are life savers. We are 911.