In Defense of Dispatchers (RANT AHEAD)

Good morning and welcome to another Driver Robbie Rant.  This one is about a personal bugbear of mine: being rude to the voices that live on the other end of the radio.

We all have to deal with dispatchers, and with anything in life there are good dispatchers and less good dispatchers.  However, even if you think they are the worst thing to hit the airwaves since Lord Haw-Haw, there is no need to be rude to them.

I understand why people get frustrated with dispatchers; I get frustrated too.  We are out on the road, tired, hungry, stressed, desperate for a toilet break, and they are always there, giving us yet another job.  And many of these jobs seem more than a little absurd:  Lights and sirens to someone with an itchy knee? (an actual job I was sent to last week)  Three ambulances and a fire truck to a drunk 23 year old who is in an “altered conscious state?” (In my drinking days, becoming altered conscious was the whole point…)
It is frustrating as the level of response (and thus risk to us) is disproportionate to the problem.

But the thing is, it’s not the dispatchers fault.  They know that the guy with the itchy knee probably doesn’t need a lights and sirens response.  They also know that you are tired and hungry and stressed and backed up to the eyeballs.  But, they didn’t design the systems they use.  They don’t dictate the level of response to jobs.  They don’t have the authority to vary the dispatch grid.
Their job is to dispatch the jobs as they come in according to their protocols and work-flows.  And if you feel like you have someone watching over your shoulder to see you don’t mess up, you ought to have a look at what these poor buggers have to put up with.  Their every key stroke is logged and dissected to make sure they meet KPIs.  They are under enormous pressure to get jobs out within ridiculously tight time frames, a job they do damn well for the most part.

Of course when you are busy, they are busy.  Everyone who wants to have a chat on the radio holds them up and makes their life more difficult.  If it’s something necessary that they can help with (like a callback to get a keycode to access the property you have been sent to) that’s ok.  But if it’s something they can’t change (like the coding on a job) then all you are doing is holding them up and making life difficult for them.

Of course, it’s easy for the Comms staff, as they get to sit in an air conditioned office, sipping tea and playing cards, right?  Certainly this is what I used to think.  I was wrong.
I defy anyone to sit glued to monitors for 10 hours plus, under glaring fluorescent lights, coping abuse from callers and from crews, with jobs racking up in the pending box that they need to find some way of covering and call it  an easy job.  I can assure that it is often hellish and stressful.  When they say “stand-by unless urgent” they aren’t having a sip of tea and a shortbread.  They are having to liaise with their team-leader, or the Duty Manager or the Clinician or the police or the fire brigade.  There is a great deal to their jobs that we do not see from our perspective behind the wheel of the bus.

So please, don’t take your frustration out on the dispatchers, they are doing the best they can with the system they have to work with.   Don’t be snarky, sarcastic or angry at them, even if you feel that way.  Take a deep breath and try to be at least polite to them; if nothing else it is just good manners.

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7 Responses to In Defense of Dispatchers (RANT AHEAD)

  1. StretcherBearer says:

    Mark yourself enroute. Be a big boy and hit your own buttons.
    Ask the Clinician to review your case yourself.
    Know that yes, you are the closest car.
    Read your data terminal and see that yes, you are being backed up.
    However, now is the time where tension is high, it only takes a job given out a certain degree of ambivalence to send some off their rocker. There have been massive changes in way jobs were dispatched; perhaps the carpet bombing of jobs istaking it toll.
    The ‘machine’ needs to see the response of crews on air as evidence of a bigger problem that still isn’t fixed.

  2. Somnolent says:

    Well put StretcherBearer. I couldn’t agree more. I yell at the radio a lot, but never at the dispatcher and sadly, increasingly often as a response to moronic questions being asked of the comms staff. Frustrated, tired yes. But never an excuse to vent at the wrong people.

  3. Absolutely right StretcherBearer, we are all grown-ups and should be able to do simple things ourselves. There certainly seems to have been a change in the system with regards to coding. I don’t know if there actually has or not as I have been unable to chase down any solid numbers, but my experience and that of my colleagues, is that we seem go to a significantly higher proportion of cases that are coded as Priority Zero since the last update. I don’t know how or why this is happening and I would hope that someone in a position to change things is looking at the result of these changes.

    Somnolent, I too spend a great deal of time yelling at the radio (as anyone who has worked with me will attest). Often it is something along the lines of “JUST GO DO THE JOB!” as well!

  4. stacey008 says:

    Thank you for writing this piece. As a dispatcher, reading the things you wrote made me smile. I can’t speak for all dispatchers but I try my bloody hardest to make sure paramedics are not going to jobs code 1 unless really required, but I’m not a paramedic so if it smells funny I refer it to a paramedic. The system we work with is a pain in the ass but we try our best and we don’t always get it right but we are only human. So thank you again for telling it how it is.

  5. To Eyes Wide Open.

    I’m sorry, I was in two minds as to whether to approve your posts. However I don’t feel that they are constructive, nor respectful and thus not in keeping with the spirit of this blog.

    With that said, I do understand your frustration. I have been an ambulance officer/paramedic for all of my adult life, I have felt and expressed the exact same things that you have in your email. Ultimately though the frustration you express should not be directed at the dispatchers on the radio. They are doing the job by the rules they have to operate under, nothing more, nothing less. It is a hard and stressful job, as is yours. Being angry or rude to each other is not going to change that or make your working day any better.

  6. Fred Nuckle says:

    Part of the reason I left a large regional Comms (obviously prior to the current disaster), was largely due to being the centre of everyone’s abuse – Ambos, management and the community.
    We had large input into how the system ran – no computer run grids (although we did courses and expected it to come in) and much closer communications with the crews and generally worked well. You could always count on certain Ambos giving you grief every time they were on shift – it was their character to be dicks and it showed in their attitude to patients. My CI/student reports reflected that as well, but they were largely ignored.
    Let’s get back to the old system like the Poms have.

  7. Pingback: Ambofoam : In Defense of Despatch | Rotovegas Paramedic

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