A Day in the Life of a Rookie Dispatcher


So late, so quiet.  The 24-hour clock reads 0317.  Three stamping time clocks acknowledge each minute out of unison.  Otherwise, silence.  Suddenly the alarm cuts and jump – starts my heart.  I grab the line.

“Fire Department Emergency.”  So firm, so sure, yet my insides turn.

This new world I have so recklessly taken on overwhelms me with its seriousness.  With each ring, I feel responsible for someone’s life.  I fumble the hot potato from hand to hand until I am able to pass it onto firefighters dragged from their dreams to those in need.

The intensity of the frightened woman’s voice shakes me to my core. 

 “Help me, please!  Oh God! Oh God!”

“Do you have a fire?”  I struggle to suppress my fear.

“Yes, yes.  Oh God please help!” she screams over me.

“What’s your address?”

Click – I have lost her.  My pulse races.  It’s late.  Everyone must be sleeping – children perhaps.  My partner grabs the printout.  We got an address!

I send out the alarm: 

“Pump 1, Tower 1, Pump 10, Rescue 6, 5-8, residential structure fire.”   My throat tightens.  I gasp for much needed air and continue.  

“8200 128 Street.”  I provide tac assignments, grid numbers, hydrant locations to the sleepy-eyed firefighters.  I pass the hot potato.  Now I sit and wait, count and hope. Each second is an hour. 

“Pump 1, on scene.” The radio spits at me.  Thank God they’ve arrived.

“Two storey house, fully involved.  Tower 1 start search and rescue.  Pump 10, catch that hydrant.”   

Time passes and I hear nothing.  Then, 

“Dispatch, Pump 1.  We report three rescued victims.  Smoke inhalation.   Are ambulances responding?”

Fifteen minutes later, the fire is knocked down.  My heartbeat slows.  I unclench my fists.  We didn’t lose anyone.

I’ve been part of this scary world for only three short weeks.  My first fire is now behind me.  They say it gets easier, but right now that’s hard to believe.   Feeling so alone and afraid in this new world. I remind myself it’s all for the good.

I walk the room, then return to my console to wait for the next one.  My partner,  who’s had 15 years of this, tosses her pen forward and falls back  into her chair.  She stares vacantly at me for a moment.   

“I thought we were going to lose someone.” She mutters. 

 And I see the relief on her face.

Perhaps it never does get easier.

Ed, my Battalion Chief and I, December 1999.

About Arlene Pretty

I am married and live in Langley, BC, Canada. I am a retired Fire Service Dispatcher. I spend a lot of my time working on my blog and am Manager of Details for my husband’s business Ed’s Woodturning. In my spare time I enjoy motorcycle touring and have been across Canada and through a lot of the US on my bike. I also enjoy cruising in the winter. I am also an avid genealogist spending most of my time working on our tree and helping friends build theirs. I became a grandmother 5 Sept 2018 and love every minute I get to spend with my grandson.
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