When Lives Are On The Line: Part II


It took me over a year to get hired at the 9-1-1 center where I work. Now, before that my scope of employment was 95% shopping mall jobs, so its kind of like going from playing Calvin-ball at the park with some friends and then trying out for the Yankee’s.

Now, to be fair, it shouldn’t normally take as long as it did for me. I actually failed the first test when I initially applied. I had to wait until the next hiring session about three months later to try again, and made it through clean. Even if you ace every test, though, it’s no small feat.

For obvious reasons I can’t tell you about the tests themselves, but here’s an example of a schedule for getting through this application program:

Submit Application (Alright, off to a good start here)
Receive a “Pre-Screen” packet, fill out and return on time (This step routinely cuts as many as 25% of applicants)
Test 1 (which is itself a 3-part test)
Test 2 (a segmented test on a wide scope of topics, including a test that you don’t even know is happening)
Interview (Including a few test questions and “what would you do if..” scenarios)
Receive background packet, fill out, return on time (Some people are still regularly surprised that they can’t work in dispatch when they have, you know, an extensive criminal background and/or are wanted out of state. The question “Does having a felony disqualify me?” has been asked more than once)
Background interview
Background interview (where they talk to your family, your friends, your coworkers, and that little kid three houses down from you when you were six)
Psychological Examination (another multi-part test)
Psychological Interview (by now you’re an interview pro)
Get the jo-oh, wait, don’t forge the urine test.
Get the job!

Oh, and that last part is assuming that you do, in fact, make the cut. You can get all the way to the end, but if its not a good fit, its not happening.

During my hiring session (the one I actually passed), there were between 600-800 applicants. When I was hired, there were 3 of us left. That’s less than .5% success rate. I consider myself lucky, too, because since then we’ve had 4 more hiring groups make it through the process, and 3 of those were solo. As in only one out of hundreds of applicants made it. I consider myself lucky to have had some teammates to go through training with.

At an open house for the upcoming hiring session I was told that approximately 3% of the population can work this job as a career. Now I’m not saying all that to try to climb a pedestal; for one thing, my balance is terrible and I’d just knock it over. I say it because even over a year into it, I’m still not sure if I’m cut out for this. Everything I’ve seen has only deepened my respect for my co-workers. There are some days when I’m on my game, and I’m getting my work done, and we’re savin’ lives and catchin’ bad guys like it’s a Bruce Willis film. Even then, at the best of times it can all go sideways, and in those moments my senior coworkers really shine in a way that makes me want to sit down and start taking notes. That gives me an idea I’ll elaborate on more in a future post, for now I’m still discussing the process.

So, you’ve applied, you passed all the tests and interviews (and tests within the interviews) and you landed yourself the job. Great! When you start changing the world?

First there is calltaker training. The calltaker academy, purely the classroom-based stuff, takes about six to eight weeks. This is full 40 hour weeks, learning everything from local municipal code, policies, fire regulations, police procedures, policies, computer operations, and did I mention policies?

After you’ve crammed all that information into your head, with books and notes and flash cards, you get to apply it. Enter the Coaching Stage, and this takes another six to eight weeks, possibly longer. Now you’re answering lives calls, but with a coach guiding you through every step. The first day you are literally repeating what they say word for word, and you develop your skills and begin to problem solve and adapt on your own. If, after you’ve gone through two or three different coaches, you meet the minimum guidelines (the minimum being what every fully trained calltaker on the floor is expected to be able to do without error every day), then you’re cut loose! Now you’re free to stop making mistakes under the watchful eye of your coach and start making mistakes under the watchful eye of every supervisor within a 10 mile radius. And before a mistake meant getting marked down on your scores for that day, but now it could mean getting marked down on your employment status. Having fun yet, because it’s not over yet.

Nope. A year later I’m still in the training process. Realistically, the learning never ends. You can work here 25 years and still learn something new each day. However, on a technical level, you have 3 years to be 100% fully trained. Aside from the calltaker training, you go back into The Coaching Stage at each of 3 different dispatch positions (2 different police positions and 1 fire dispatch), each one taking from four to weight weeks to complete.

Somewhere in there, you also take a 2-week academy at the Department of Public Safety Standards & Training to get your state certification. After our in-house calltaker academy, DPSST felt like a vacation, albeit one that included marching for colors every morning.

It’s been an intense journey, and one that won’t be over until I hang up my headset. If just getting here was this challenging, and this much fun, I can’t wait to see what will happen down the road.

For intermittent pieces of writing, check out The Elusive Muse

Comments

  1. Karen says

    Dana,my opinion of you has just shot through the ceiling. You're one of those amazing 9-1-1 calltakers? You people ROCK.It sounds like an excellent day job for a writer, one in which you'll never stop learning. Some of that learning will leak into your writing in odd and mysterious ways, and make it better.I still say you should be a geologist, but with only one of you, there isn't time for that. Now, if someone should truly get cloning to work, and there were two of you, and you both worked really hard and lived very long, together you might be able to get around to fulfilling all of your true potential in various fields…

  2. Karen says

    Sorry, Jacob, I posted before I saw the signature. Duh. Dana does indeed rock, but so do you. I've not had many interfaces with 9-1-1 operators, but those I have had were amazingly comforting in their professionalism. Some people like you helped me when my mother, and a few years later my father, each deteriorated suddenly and needed help. Those unnamed calltakers calmed me down, helped me explain exactly what the situation was, and got me help quickly. In a rural situation in dense fog, when I wasn't thinking, they got me to go out to the road with a flashlight and flag down the ambulance. They did my thinking for me when I couldn't think straight. I'm forever grateful.Dana, you should think about trying for such a job… it WILL make you a better writer!

  3. says

    @ Karen: ZOMG, two of me, I so totally agree! I'd make one work for our living and do the cooking while I get on with the other important shit. LOL.And yes, my coblogger rocks, saves lives, and has the perfect job for a writer (aside from the insane working hours). There is a reason why I respect him immensely and squeal with glee every time he posts.