From a Student's Perspective - Dancing My Way Through Dispatching

 

By Chris Burky

 

In 1997 I was approached by a friend who was a police officer for the Dublin Police Dept. in Dublin, OH.  My friend told me that they were hiring dispatchers and he thought it might be a job I'd be good at.  I applied for the job, went through the extensive testing, interview and background process, and was hired.  I started my new career January 23, 1998.  I completed a training program that was about 3-4 months long, teaching me how to dispatch police, fire and EMS, how to handle the calls, and how to deal with true life and death emergencies.  The job of a public safety dispatcher is considered one of the most stressful jobs out there.  I quickly found out why. Taking the call from the screaming parent who couldn't find her missing child, keeping up with officers in a high speed pursuit and having that pursuit end with officers having to fire shots at a person in order to stop that person from killing them, calming the caller who came home to find that her significant other had hung herself.  These were just a few of the incidents I dealt with in my first few months on the job.

Twenty years later and I still work at the same place.  The difference is that now, instead of handling one police dept. and one fire dept., we dispatch for three cities.  Instead of handling a couple of hundred 9-1-1 calls each month, we handle over 100 every day.  With the growth in the use of cell phones the stress of the job has increased.  Finding a caller who has called 9-1-1 on his/her cell phone is not an easy task if the caller does not know where he/she is.  The one or two phone calls we used to get about a single incident has now become 10 or more phone calls.  Technology changes in the last twenty years also mean that the capabilities of the 9-1-1 system are stretched.  Now we receive text messages to 9-1-1.  Soon people will be able to send photos and videos to 9-1-1.  While those can be good, they also bring more challenges.  All of this amounts to making, what was a stressful job, increasingly more and more stressful.

 

In addition to the stress of doing the job, I have spent many years training others to do the job.  I also serve as part of the FOP Critical Response Team.  So, when that extraordinary incident happens, I get called.  I've talked to responders and dispatchers after they lost a co-worker in the line of duty.  I've talked to the dispatchers who took the call from the parent when the child died.  I've listened to responders recount how they did everything they knew to do to help...but the situation didn't turn out the way it should have.

So after more than 20 years of doing this job, how is it that I do not have serious health issues?  Stress has been proven to compromise the body's immune system, but I haven't called in sick to work in over two years.  Stress is supposed to increase your blood pressure, but mine has stayed normal or even lower than the norm.

Two activities that I participate in have been instrumental in helping me deal with the stress of life and the stress of work.  Running and ballroom dancing.  I'm not a fast runner, but I enjoy the activity.  I'm currently working on my goal to run a race in all 50 States.  So far, I've got 34 States completed with two new States planned in October and another planned for February.

Ballroom Dancing has helped more than most can imagine.  The opportunity to take my mind off of the day and focus on the music and steps.  The opportunity to focus on my technique doesn't allow me to dwell on the bad.  The opportunity to socialize with others, whether that is my instructor, other students, or other professional dancers, the conversation is not about my work. 

This way of relieving stress really came to light for me last February.  At the time all of Central Ohio Law Enforcement was reeling after two local police officers were shot and killed during a domestic dispute.  Emily, my dance instructor, asked me a question that surprised me somewhat.  She asked, "When you've had a really stressful day like this, what do you want me to do in your lessons?"  That question surprised me a bit. After all, what else would I be expecting my dance instructor to do, but to teach me to dance.  But this was the point when I realized that learning to dance is the side effect I get from my time in the studio.  The purpose of my time in the studio is much more than that.  Sometimes it's to shake off the funk of the day.  Sometimes it's to focus on something enjoyable.  Sometimes it's simply to laugh a little.  Even when the day hasn't been stressful, banking some enjoyment and exercise is also beneficial. 

We all have those life issues.  No one has a stress free life.  The question is, how do we deal with that stress.  For me, it's running and dancing.  What is it for you?