Yesterday The Badge Guys introduced you to American Police Dispatcher, Kristin Kitchens. We discussed her decision to become a dispatcher and what it took to do the job.
We hope you checked out her Facebook site at Diary of a Mad Dispatcher after getting to know her. Well, she is back for the final part of our interview.
Please enjoy Part 2 of 2 with Kristin Kitchen’s “Interview with America’s Diary of a Mad Dispatcher – The Badge Guys”
TBG: We know you have received and handled some pretty tough calls for dispatching assistance, do you have one that stands out?
KMK: As a rookie dispatcher I took a call from a man that wanted to end his life. He was a father of 2 girls, he had a wife and he was young with his whole life ahead of him. No one was in the house but him.
He wanted to complete his task before his family returned home. I was his last cry for help in his mind. I stayed on the phone with him while I waited for the Deputies and Medics to arrive at his residence.
If you have ever taken this kind of call you know that 5 minutes feels like 5 hours. So imagine my desperation as I read notes in the call entered by the law dispatcher that they were setting up a command post and calling out a negotiator. Wait? What? Why!!
I calmly remained on the line reasoning with my caller. We had covered many topics as to why ending his life was not the reasonable answer to his problems and the earth shattering effect this would have on his family especially his young daughters.
At one point I compared how he felt to a hurricane, the storm is fierce right now but the sun will come back out tomorrow.
My squad then broke out into a whispered rendition of the song The Sun will Come Out Tomorrow from Little Orphan Annie. My supervisor, who had faith in my connection to the caller, convinced the incident commander to let me talk him out so we didn’t have to wait on a negotiator to be called out. I was successful.
He went out the front door unarmed and was taken into custody with no incident. I was later briefed that he was about to be arrested on murder charges and was a suspect in a second murder investigation.
He is now serving life in prison on the first charge with all of his appeals exhausted. They were never able to find enough evidence to charge him with the second murder, which is now a cold case.
When I reflected on this call after the fact I wondered if I had known at the beginning of the call what I knew after the call would I have worked as hard? The answer is yes. My job is to provide the first line of emergency response no matter the caller.
The Mother, the drug addict, the abused, the prostitute, the elected official, they all deserve my best.
TBG: How does this make you feel once the call is terminated?
KMK: 911 Dispatchers are often left out of the debriefing loop. Unfortunately, my agency is no exception. While we hear about the debriefings that are arranged for the units we send into the tragic incidents we are not often invited.
In my experience we are an afterthought when one of us mentions that we were not included or invited. “Oh didn’t you get the memo?” It must have been an oversight, yeah that’s it.
We are resilient, we comfort each other, we talk it out, yell it out, scream it out! Sometimes a bottle of wine, a platter of cupcakes, and your best buds can heal anything.
TBG: Do dispatchers experience PTSD?
KMK: You better believe they do. Imagine being blind and defenseless. All you have are your ears to guide you. Many times the screaming and number of voices distort exactly what you can hear.
In the chaos of the open phone line you hear a child crying, a person begging for mercy, an asthmatic’s breaths getting more restricted, or the death rattle of a patient’s atonal breathing.
You are helpless. That feeling of helplessness is devastating. I am the first line of defense and I cannot stop what I hear on the other end of the line. I have had many officers say to me, but you’re not in the line of fire. That is correct I am not in the line of fire but that does not mean I do not suffer from the scene.
My mind can visualize that scene, sometimes much worse than it really is. Then I throw my first responders into the mix and a whole new kind of fear comes into play. It is my responsibility to keep you safe from harm, I need to make sure you return home to your spouse when your tour of duty ends.
Anxiety doubles because I no longer have that open line to hear the scene playing out. I have to wait for someone, anyone on scene to remember to tell us you are safe and secure. You may not see me, you may not feel me, but I am there with you every step of the way.
TBG: Is there anyone (professional, agency point of contact, or Dispatcher’s associations) available for you to talk to about your feelings?
KMK: The only person that really is aware of the stress levels of a dispatcher is a dispatcher. If you have never done this job you have no idea what it involves. We are not just button pushing, Bon-Bon eating, cackling dispatchers.
We are Mothers, Fathers, Mentors, Counselors, Information collectors, The voice of hope or reason, Comforters, and our emergency responders backup among many tasks we perform daily, often time all at once.
TBG: What can be done to change and positively affect the awareness level?
KMK: To change and positively affect the awareness level of dispatcher stress levels would require understanding and respect. As a senior training officer I encourage my rookies to do as many ride-alongs as they can, with all of the agencies we work with.
Put yourself out there on the other end of the mic and see what they endure. This will create a respect and understanding of what their job is out there on the street. It is the same for the emergency services we dispatch.
Come in and do a sit along. I don’t mean on Sunday morning at 0900 hours when there is absolutely nothing going on. Come in when you know the action is, bar closings downtown on a summer Saturday night is the time to sit if you want to be impressed.
Get to know your dispatchers. You may find that we are hilarious or fun or make great friends. Don’t discount us. We can be fiercely loyal and love going above and beyond.
TBG: Would you repeat your decision to become a 911 dispatcher if you had it to do over again?
KMK: Hell yeah! I love what I do. Where else can I tell cops what to do and not end up in cuffs? I make a difference in someone’s life every single day I put on my headset. Yes there are bad days, sometimes I cry.
It can be from anger, sadness or even frustration. I take comfort in knowing every night when I rest my head on my pillow that I made a difference somewhere, someway, somehow and tomorrow will be another day.
I am the silent hero that most people do not acknowledge or remember. The voice that carries you through until first responders or back up arrive. I am proud of the work that I do, always recognized or not.
TBG: What makes you, you?
KMK: For the record this is the hardest question! I have been fortunate enough to find a profession that I love and excel at. From a young age I was always a people person, I have never met a stranger.
I inherited my father’s charisma and sense of humor. I have been told on many occasions by some of my favorite officers/deputies I missed my calling as a stand-up comedian.
I try to remain positive at all times, at work as well as in my personal life. Am I always successful? Not by a long shot. There is always tomorrow for things to turn around.
TBG: We would like to note that the original question asked was, “You Rock! What makes you so awesome at being you?” She was too humble to go with it, so she modified it. It is obvious though that you do Rock & are Awesome!
TBG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
KMK: I would love to thank you for the opportunity to share my insights about a line of work that I have dedicated myself to.
The Badge Guys wish to thank every one who has the courage and compassion for taking that call. For giving hope and reassurance to the anonymous voice on the other end. For being Awasome; yes, you all Rock!!
Enjoy next week’s National Public Safety Telecommunications Week