Training and supporting telecommunicators is critical for the call-handling process to be effective. It is easy to sometimes overlook the relentless efforts of telecommunicators and what they deal with daily. They are more than just a voice on the other end of the line. Telecommunicators are the first line of response. They play a vital role in gathering information, determining the level of resources needed for the call, relaying information, and providing pre-arrival instructions. Understanding that each call received is different and being prepared to respond is critical. Training is a key factor in being prepared. Furthermore, when telecommunicators are given proper training and support to handle various phases of the call, it is proven to boost morale, consistency, reduce stress, and overall job performance.
Let’s consider a case that received much attention involving a 76-year-old woman from Florida, who lost her life in a structure fire to assess and potentially learn from. It is easy to look at the situation and metaphorically point the finger and question on how the telecommunicator did or did not respond. Throughout the call, there are cues indicating that the caller was mobile and therefore, a possibility to get her out of the burning house. In addition, the caller was in an overwhelming situation and expressed her fear. Recognizing these facts could have helped the telecommunicator to switch gears and transition immediately to provide pre-arrival instructions to get her to safety. Is it possible that the internal processes and overall culture of training failed the telecommunicator as well as the caller? Is there a risk with the telecommunicator using their training to strictly follow the protocol from start to finish, without being able to recognize when it is time to switch gears sooner from information gathering to providing appropriate and crucial pre-arrival instructions?
What if the setting and circumstance were different in the case involving the elderly woman? For example, what if she was calling from her neighbor’s house from across the street and reported that her house was on fire? Once the telecommunicator gathers information, ensures no one else is in the house, the pre-arrival instructions would be much different as would the overall approach. Recognizing the different situations is important to understanding how to respond and change gears in each type of call.
When a telecommunicator focuses strictly on following the agency’s process to ask specific protocol questions and get answers to those questions the processes may interfere with their ability to be aware of other things going on in the situation and recognizing when to switch gears as seen with the Florida situation. It’s not clear if the agency’s process or the telecommunicator’s focus on the protocol itself hindered the overall outcome but looking at training and how training is used to handle calls is important going forward.
Calls received in public safety will often have unpredictable outcomes and within it, scene conditions can dramatically change. The demands on telecommunicators today are much higher than in the past. Making sure they have training and tools to help them do their job is critical. It is important for the telecommunicator to be trained to actively listen, use critical thinking, and apply situational awareness to effectively manage the call. If the telecommunicator were to have used these skills along with having a tool to support the call taker, would the result of the Florida call have been different? We do not know, but as the industry changes and the demands change, it is worth further evaluating the culture of training and even the use of effective tools in public safety. Should agencies consider an alternative approach where they apply the tool to how they believe it meets the needs of their community, rather than relying on standards that are set by a third party?
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