Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, also called public safety telecommunicators or 911 dispatchers, answer emergency and nonemergency calls.
It can be a rewarding, but highly stressful job that appeals to someone who loves helping people in unpredictable situations. If you’ve taken the 16Personaliies test, this job could appeal to you if you are a Virtuoso type.
Job Affirmations for 911 Dispatchers
- I remain calm even in the most stressful situations.
- My fast thinking leads to the best solutions.
- I thrive in the unexpected.
- I work to attain the best outcome with the information I have.
- I accept the outcome and move on.
- When I help people in trouble I feel good.
- My words are a lifeline and are chosen with care.
- I leave work at work.
- Helping people in emergencies is my superpower.
- Breathe in strength. Breathe out stress.
1. Duties: They Have to Think Fast
911 dispatchers have to determine the type of emergency, its location and decide who should respond. They have seconds to think and relay the right information to the right agency.
They also have to give basic first-aid instructions over the phone while emergency personnel go to the scene. Many times the person on the other end of the line is panicked or injured and not thinking clearly.
2. They Have to Stay Calm in Chaos
911 dispatchers must stay calm as they collect vital information from callers to assess the situation and the location of those who need help. They must also try to keep the caller calm and focused on providing first-aid to people at the scene or staying safe until help arrives.
3. 911 Dispatchers Must Keep Meticulous Records
Dispatchers must keep detailed records of the calls that they answer.
They use computers to log facts, such as the nature of the incident and the caller’s name and location. Most computer systems detect the location of cell phones and landline phones automatically.
They also relay this information to first responders to help them assess how to best handle the situation or provide aid.
4. Where to Find Jobs: Most Work for Local Government
Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers held about 98,300 jobs in 2018. They were employed by the following:
|Colleges, universities, |
and professional schools;
state, local, and private
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||2%|
911 dispatchers work in communication centers, often called public safety answering points (PSAPs).
Some dispatchers work for unified communication centers. Here, they answer calls for emergency services. Some dispatchers may work specifically for police or fire departments.
Build your 911 Dispatcher Resume
5. You Have to Love Stress for Success
Work as a dispatcher can be stressful. You can expect to work long shifts, take many calls, and deal with troubling situations.
Some calls require them to assist people who are in life-threatening situations, and the pressure to respond quickly and calmly can be demanding.
Most dispatchers work 8- to 12-hour shifts, but some agencies require even longer ones. Overtime is common in this occupation.
Because emergencies can happen at any time, dispatchers are required to work some shifts during evenings, weekends, and holidays.
6. Education: A High School Diploma and Training
Most 911 dispatchers have a high school diploma. They must also have the training and certification needed for the location they work for.
Job candidates must pass a written exam and a typing test. In some instances, applicants may need to pass a background check, lie detector and drug tests, and tests for hearing and vision.
Some jobs require a driver’s license, and experience using computers and in customer service can be helpful.
The ability to speak Spanish is also a plus.
Training requirements for 911 dispatchers vary by state. Some states require 40 or more hours of initial training, and some require continuing education every 2 to 3 years.
Other states do not mandate any specific training, leaving individual localities and agencies to structure their own requirements and conduct their own courses.
Some agencies have their own programs for certifying dispatchers; others use training from a professional association.
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), and the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) have established a number of recommended standards and best practices that agencies often use as a guideline for their own training programs.
Training is usually conducted in a classroom and on the job, and may be followed by a probationary period of about 1 year.
Many states require dispatchers to be certified. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) provides a list of states requiring training and certification.
One certification is the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) certification, which enables dispatchers to give medical assistance over the phone.
Training and additional certifications can help dispatchers become senior dispatchers or supervisors. Additional education and related work experience may be helpful in advancing to management-level positions.
7. Communication is the Top Soft Skill You Need.
You need to be able to multitask at this job, but the top skill is communication. That means giving clear instructions to the person on the phone and relaying critical information to emergency personnel. Part of communicating is listening.
You must collect relevant details, even though some callers might have trouble speaking because of anxiety or stress.
8. Pay: 911 Dispatchers Make An Average of $40,000
The median (and average) annual wage for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers was $40,660 in May 2018.
The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,590, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $63,930. Salaries according to top employers
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||$47,650|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||40,870|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||38,810|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||37,280|
9. The Number of Jobs is Growing
Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers
Employment of 911 dispatchers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Although state and local government budget constraints may limit the number of dispatchers hired in the coming decade, population growth and the commensurate increase in 9-1-1 call volume is expected to increase the employment of dispatchers.
This may not be a long-term career choice for some people due to the stressful nature of the job. This means that there is a lot of turn over.
10. More Resources
For more information about police, fire, and ambulance dispatcher training and certification, visit
- Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials
- International Academies of Emergency Dispatch
- International Municipal Signal Association
- National Emergency Number Association
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