With a title that long, sometimes you just need an acronym.
Welcome back! For those who missed it, here’s a link to Part 1 – Mendenhall Glacier. Today we’re headed down Tracy Arm toward a glacier we’ll never reach, but that’s okay–as any number of poets will attest, it’s the journey that counts. Tracy Arm is a fjord near Juneau, a body of water we sailed where once there was only glacial ice. There’s no way to decide whether Mendenhall Glacier or Tracy Arm was more amazing. There were too many icebergs for the captain to maneuver the ship around the last corner to Sawyer Glacier, and I have zero complaints because my mind was already thoroughly blown by the journey there.
You see, the cruise ship we were on was a rather large cruise ship. I don’t have a lot to go on comparison-wise, having only been on the one, but man that boat was HUGE. Tracy Arm is… well, rather narrow. We were constantly threading a needle made of majestic, towering rock faces. I lament the inability of mere mortal cameras to capture that feeling properly. I felt dwarfed, insignificant, overawed. Beyond a certain point, I edged into sensory overload; the terrain was just too relentlessly magnificent to really parse. The human brain can only handle so much awesome.
Let’s see, shall we?
Once into Tracy Arm we encountered endless icebergs, many of which floated right beneath our balcony. The waves you see there are wake, and the sound of water hitting iceberg was awesome, almost thundrous. I am exceedingly curious as to what created all those ridged divets in the ice. They’re so patterned, regular.
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 (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
When calling from a land line, your physical address is only as good as the phone records. Which, to be fair, are usually quite good, but not imperfect. If you call from a house phone, our system is recognizing the address that the phone number is registered to, which is some cases is not always accurate. This is especially true when dealing with “routing” lines and large business network lines. If your business phones pass through a network router, the address of the business line may not be the same as where you are calling from.
VoIP phones also run a similar system of address registration. When you sign up for the service, you enter an address for the account, and when that system dials 9-1-1, that’s what we see. You may not be anywhere nearby, but that’s the registered address. The shadier uses of this includes using a deliberate fake address to mislead emergency responders, but that is a different topic.
Now, cell phones. Ah, cell phones. In this day and age of phones smarter than my desktop computer, people assume we know everything about them when they call. When you call from a cell phone, the call is bounced off a cell tower and then placed here. When we pick it up, we can hope for two things. “Phase 1”, which is the location of the cell phone tower. Yep, the nearest cell tower, which could have an effective area of square miles. If we’re lucky, depending on the reception where you are and the kind of phone you’re using, we can get “Phase 2”, which gives us GPS coordinates of the approximate location of your cell phone. Sometimes these are pinpoint, and sometimes with an effective range of several thousand meters. So yes, we will ask you for the location of the incident, even though you are calling from your cell phone, and even though your phone can tell you its exact location three states away while in an underground solid lead bunker.
Plus, technology is all wonky and sometimes gets fickle and doesn’t do what its supposed to.
Well, I think that about does it for an introduction. Tune in (or tune out) the next installment, where I’ll explain why it took over a year to get hired here.
For some of my creative musings, stop by The Elusive Muse.
[Guest blogger Kaden]
This was supposed to be a comment on Dana’s latest Dojo post below, but it was too long so I decided to make it a post of its own. Because, you know, why cut my word count short? That doesn’t make any sense.
Without further ado…
Dana, I was going to speak to you at length about this (and I still would like to) but I thought I’d throw my two pennies into the pile
Per Nicole’s comment, I think that writers might deal with the full depth of the philosophy more than the average person, or at least on a larger scale than most. We can decide the fates of individual lives, whole civilizations, and the fact that it doesn’t exist doesn’t change that we have to make it happen in that world. We have to actively choose to write it like that.
However, as real as writing is, and I’m all about the voices in our head Nicole, I also work closely with police officers and dispatchers who have to make these kinds of life choices regularly. If the choice to kill off billions of fictional people is this hard for us, but knowing that perhaps our story will make a difference and thus, that may be our justification, where does that leave those who make those choices every day?
In my home town, officers faced off against a young man who was charging, downhill, holding a knife, and shouting “shoot me”. What do you do? They are faced not just with the ‘criminal underworld’, but with people who are mentally or chemically unstable, possibly not in control of their own actions. How do they justify theirs?
What about politics? How do you justify your orders in a time of war? In a documentary about WWII, it is estimated that about 75% of the fighter pilots never saw the end of their campaign of 25 missions. Yet when the brass digs in their heels, when they look at the scene at hand and declare, “Hold this line, at all costs”, and countless lives are lost in the name of country soil, they declare success at the end of the day. The mission was “Successful”.
Take the scenario: You are tasked with the choice of killing a man, or not. If you do not, a man in a suit presses a button and 10 people die. You know none of the individuals involved. Now, because I’m a writer too, I understand the arguments (and the loopholes – we’re not trying to think outside the box in this case. Sabotaging the button is not an option). That said, two of my characters would like to explain their sides.
Amara: It is morally wrong to kill a another human being, end of story. The ends never justify the means. If the suit pushes the button, he is making that choice to do so, and the blood is on his hands. I won’t justify my actions like that.
Meg: At the end of the day, it’s no comfort to the victims who’s hands are stained. The husbands, wives, children and friends of the 10 people you killed will not forgive you for not choosing, because you don’t think its your fault. Proving a murderer’s guilt or innocence has no impact on the fact that someone was killed. Ignoring inequality among the individuals, if each of these 11 lives are to be held equally, I would kill one to save 10. Because when the day is over, it doesn’t matter who feels guilty, or if my conscience is heavy. The point is that when the sun rises tomorrow, 10 people will get to wake up to see it that wouldn’t have otherwise.
Who’s right? I don’t know. How do you weigh one life against another? These are the very questions we seek to answer.
To touch on an earlier topic, of reducing these lives to nameless numbers, that’s what we have to do every day of our lives just to get by. When you see a man on the street, cold and hungry and alone and hope only to rustle up a warm meal, we have to emotionally detach ourselves. Or justify it to ourselves. “I won’t give money to them because they’ll just buy booze” “They’re abusing the system” whatever you want to say. But we survive by putting ourself on another level from them. Dana, if you walked down that same street tomorrow, and you saw one of those special people you were thinking about up there? Your mom, your intrepid companion, maybe me. Could you still say those same things? Could you still go about your day? We’re not only socially but genetically wired to want to help our kin.
These are the questions we, as writers, readers, as politicians, as teachers, as students, as fathers and mothers, these are the questions we must ask.
Even if we can’t answer them.
Hey blogosphere. Jacob here.
Dana’s post about butterflies inspired me to share some nature meself. I recently attended the launch party of Bird Fellow, and I must recommend it to anyone who has an interest in birds. The website is described as “birding services, social networking, and habitat conservation”, and presents as a way to identify birds and share your experiences with people around the world. The most impressive part, perhaps, isn’t even the photos, which are amazing by themselves.
Ahem. Right. Moving along.
The website is co-founded by David Irons, a man known widely in the birding community as a foremost expert in North American bird species, and considered simply the best birder in the state of Oregon if not the Pacific Northwest by many who share the past time.
But enough about the factoids, let’s look at some more birds.
Guys, this thing here ^ is called a Loon. Ha. Crazy loo-oh god why are its eyes red?! I think it just peered into my soul. And, finding nothing of interest, resumes preening.
Sorry about the title, I’m horrible handling fishing references, but both my father and grandfather are avid weekend fishermen and I feel an obligation to occasionally submit a nod to the sport of sitting in a boat in the rain and looking at the bright side of it all.
Ahem. Right then. Hello blogosphere, it’s Jacob with another out of the blue guest post.
I have an interest in a blog subject I was going to write about, but I wanted to test the waters and see if the readers had any interest. Taking a cue from the Academia series I wrote a few years ago, I wanted to blog a bit about my occupation, both from a technical and emotional perspective. I am a 9-1-1 calltaker and dispatcher, and over the last 16 months have gone through quite an experience. So I ask you: does anyone have any questions, thoughts, or interest in reading about my experiences? As always I offer only my humblest insights, with the fair warning that I claim to know little and I know far less than I claim.
If so, drop a comment, I’ll start sometime in the next day or three, with probably weekly submissions for as long as there is still interest in whatever I can find to say. If not, perhaps I’ll find a more interesting topic of discussion, or I’ll just sit quietly in the corner and let Dana get on with her own damn blog, thankyewverymuch.
When I was a wee lad of 16, I met our awesome host Dana Hunter in, of all places, one of those online writer forums that was all the rage before short-spoken birds and facial literature. I felt like I was in a shifty bar; a dingy, shady place where the real world threw back a few drinks and threw the bottles off-camera, because real men didn’t care about littering. It was almost like Luke entering Mos Eisley, with all the naivety I could fit into my farm boy shoes. And it was there I met Dana Hunter.
Dana Hunter, you are my Kenobi.
Ahem, er, sorry, my nerd was showing there for a bit.
So Dana found me, and we quickly high-tailed it out of the forum like the Falcon with a squad of stormtroopers on our tail (Last one, I promise). We went on to have long talks about our creative endeavors, but while I just talked about it, Dana actually had the guts to do something with it. Hence why she has a blog with thousands of posts and I have, well, not much.
The reason I bring all this up is that once upon a time, I was Dana’s co-blogger. I wrote a whopping three, maybe four, articles for En Tequila Es Verdad. Then I fell off the face of the Earth for a while. Well, I’m back, and I thought I’d introduce myself a bit as I step back into old shoes and walk along a path long forgotten.
I’ll try to throw something out here every now and then. At the end is a link to my own little corner of the blogosphere, that I’m currently using to work on my personal project.
A sidenote: My previous entries were under “Kaden”, a penname that once belonged to my main character who has since been renamed. The Elusive Muse (my corner) and all related posts will simply be under Jacob. And yes, I thought Kaden was cooler too.
So, without further ado, let’s go to writing…