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San Diego Fire Rescue Department Highlight

When an emergency takes place, the first to arrive on the scene tend to get the credit. Yet often the unsung heroes are the dispatchers who assist and support the callers, all while simultaneously sending the necessary emergency teams out. Time and again, the dispatchers are the crucial element in the life-saving process.

In the early years, calls to the San Diego Fire Department were actually answered by firefighters at downtown Fire Station #1. Over time, it became apparent that a call center was needed to address the growing number of emergency calls received. In the mid 1970’s, the Fire Communication Center (FCC) was created and operated by civilian dispatchers trained to field calls and send out fire crews throughout San Diego.

Currently, there are 32 dispatchers and an additional 50 employees who carry out other duties, all of whom help the 9-1-1 system function properly. Dispatchers have an array of vital responsibilities including receiving incoming 9-1-1 calls, evaluating the need for fire and/or paramedic services, relaying information to the units responding and providing life-saving instructions until emergency personnel have arrived.

With such important responsibilities, it’s not surprising that new dispatchers must complete approximately one year of in-depth training with a Fire Dispatch Trainer before they are considered proficient on phones and capable of operating five different radio positions. New dispatchers must also adjust to working at a very fast pace and under constant pressure, all while multi-tasking to ensure that contact is maintained with the caller and that the correct information is accurately transmitted to the appropriate emergency unit. Yet the essential tools for a dispatcher are those you cannot teach—patience, compassion and a strong desire to help others in need.

Occasionally, a dispatcher is reunited with a caller who they helped. Recently, a dispatcher helped a woman who had called 9-1-1 after her husband had gone into cardiac arrest. The dispatcher was able to talk the wife through the life-saving steps until the paramedics arrived on the scene. Fortunately, the husband survived and the couple came to the dispatch center to tell their story and to personally thank the dispatcher who had helped save the man’s life.

The demands of the job require a cohesive group of colleagues who can appreciate each other’s strengths and can assist one another in areas of weakness. In order to maintain a high level of teamwork, the department participates in extracurricular activities including the Over-the-Line tournament, annual chili cook-offs, the Guacamole Bowl and multiple opportunities to volunteer for the Burn Institute.

We are fortunate to have such a caring and committed group of individuals who can be relied upon each day during emergencies and crises. Although emergency callers do not always get the opportunity to personally express their gratitude to the voice on the other end of the 9-1-1 call, every saved life is an acknowledgement of the amazing job dispatchers do. MEA is proud to represent the amazing dispatchers in the Fire Rescue Department. Thank you for all you do!

Special thanks to Stephanie Galbicka for her assistance and department profile.