When we have an emergency on our hands, when our lives or the lives of our friends and family are in danger, we’ve been drilled to call 911 (or another emergency number if you’re living outside the United States). These situations are devastating for us and our loved ones, but how many of us have considered the emotional weight that falls on the shoulders of those who are the very first to respond to our calls?
To us, emergencies are a rare occurrence. But dispatchers deal with emergency after emergency. Every. Single. Day. For. Years. Lynette McManus Jeter, a dispatcher from Henrico County in Virginia, wrote an honest essay about the emotional pitfalls of her profession and how it affects her life.
Bored Panda spoke to Communications Officer Lynette about her job as a dispatcher and what inspires people to follow this path.
“I believe there are several different reasons why a person may be inspired to become a dispatcher. Some people were searching for a career helping others, some find it interesting and wanted to just give it a try and others may basically just be looking for a job.”
“The greatest challenges would be that the job can be very demanding,” Lynette explained. “Long hours, stress, as well as working weekends and holidays. The reward is knowing that you were able to get someone the help that they need.” Scroll down for the full interview.
According to Lynette, everyone has their own way of dealing with the emotional toll of the job. “I can speak from personal experience that having a life outside of my job has helped me. Being able to spend time with my family and friends and do things that I really enjoy, like traveling.”
“The qualities to be a good dispatcher is someone who can show empathy, a good listener, someone who pays attention to detail, and someone who can make quick decisions.”
Bored Panda was also curious to learn what we could all do to support dispatchers. Here’s what Lynette had to say: “Just to understand that every question we ask is for a reason, and the quicker the caller is able to answer the question the faster it is for us to get help on the way.”
“I would just like everyone to realize dispatchers are the true first responders. Even though we are not seen, we are the first point of contact during an emergency.”
Lynette’s powerful letter has gone viral online, getting over 29,000 likes, over 31,000 shares, and more than 7,200 comments. Some people expressed their support of Lynette, while others said that from now on they would see each and every dispatcher in a different light.
The 39-year-old told the media in Richmond that she’s “very surprised” that her Facebook post went viral “I definitely wasn’t expecting this at all. I’ve received so many messages from other dispatchers thanking me for telling their truth."
Lynette, who has been working as a dispatcher for 15 years, wants other people to see the work that dispatchers do not as ‘clerical work.’ She wants them to be seen as first responders.
The fact is, stressful jobs don’t stop affecting you the moment that you leave the workplace. Some of that stress (in some cases, all of it) follows you home.
Police One writes that emergency dispatchers can suffer from compassion fatigue, also known as vicarious trauma, from listening to other people’s traumas every day at work, for years.
While at work, dispatchers are constantly responding to stressful situations, can overhear things that will haunt them for a very long time, and lead to feelings of helplessness, horror, and fear. So if you know a dispatcher in real life, go give them a hug and plenty of support.