Dispatchers: LODD Command and Control

It has been a very bad week with the suicide of at least two firefighters, the line of duty deaths of Wilmington firefighters Lieutenant Christopher Leach, Firefighter Jerry Fickes and FDNY Deputy Fire Chief (post.) Michael Fahy. Our continued condolences go to all of those suffering due to these horrible losses.

Among so many factors at any working fire are the folks who know about the incident coming in well before we do; the dispatchers. Mostly known as dispatchers but also as communications technicians, telecommunicators, call takers, fire alarm dispatchers, whatever term your area uses, they are the ones that take the call and stay with us throughout the entire incident.

Dispatchers take a beating at many levels; callers dialing 911; fire, EMS and police officers on the radio; poor working hours and conditions; poor training, and many other challenges. Add on top of all of this the notion that everyone believes they can do a better job than the dispatchers too.

No so fast there, Sherlock.

Until you spend some time on the 911 callboards actually taking that call from the woman whose beloved 90-year-old husband didn’t wake up, or the girl who was just physically assaulted, or the mom whose kid was found caught in the drapery cord or the dad whose kid’s bedroom is on fire, you have no clue.

Until you are on the radio when some lunatic fire officer is verbally annoyed because the power company has no ETA for wires down in a hurricane, until you keep trying to dispatch a volunteer fire department that is unable to turnout on a run with no response, until you have to dispatch 20 different fire departments, five EMS agencies and 15 police departments all with their own policies you have no clue.

And until there is a ‘mayday’ you still have no clue.

We have advocated for years that dispatchers, in their initial and continuing training, should spend some real-time in the field riding with the units they will be dispatching for. When your department is training on ICS the dispatchers should be an active part of that training. When you are doing fire simulations the dispatchers should be part of that training too. Dispatchers are an integral part of every fire scene. 

We have also, equally advocated that all probationary firefighters, EMT’s and police officers should be required to spend shifts in the dispatch center right alongside those dispatchers so they fully understand what is being done. Anything less creates an unknown and we pretty much fear the unknown. 

When firefighters become officers and officers become chiefs, some ride-along time in the dispatcher center is critical because that dispatcher truly becomes the incident commander’s right hand during the best and worst moments. Good relations and an understanding of the job can only increase the survivability and leadership of any fireground. 

Related from FireRescue Magazine:
The Fire Service and Dispatch
The Role of the EOC
Understanding the Dispatcher’s Job

Related from Fire Engineering:
Handling the Mayday: The Fire Dispatcher’s Crucial Role
The Job: Dispatch Training

A Horrible Week

In the past week, thousands of dispatchers have done an amazing job, a job we on the other side of the radio take for granted. It is like turning on a light and expecting electricity or turning on a hydrant and expecting water. We take it for granted and we really shouldn’t. There should be systems in place that ensure that the process will work correctly; that 911 will work; that tones will activate; that the dispatchers will anticipate our needs; that fire companies will turn out quickly with good staffing and that when you call on the radio, dispatch answers.

While thousands of dispatchers do a phenomenal job every day, we want to focus on the dispatchers of New Castle County, Delaware, the NYPD and the FDNY. The New Castle County Emergency Communications Center along with the NYPD’s “Central” dispatchers and FDNY’s Fire Alarm Dispatchers have set the example of professionalism this week for all the world to hear. 

It was the worst day for those fire departments and their dispatchers were right there along with them, for every second that went by. They knew and did their jobs as you will hear below. They anticipated needs and took actions. They created an environment so that the incident commanders didn’t have to worry about other aspects of the situation. 

Listen intently to it all. Pass it on to your dispatchers no matter whom or what agency dispatches your fire department. Pass it on to their bosses as well; force feed it if you have to. These are ‘must listen’ events.

While investigations are hardly complete, listen to Battalion 19 on the FDNY audio. As we all now know, the chief was tragically down but no one who wasn’t at the scene knew that initially and yet command was never lost thanks to solid firefighters who were trained to step into those ‘what if’ scenarios. Once again under tragic circumstances we all have been given some learning opportunities.  

FDNY House Explosion Audio 9/27/16

NYPD and FDNY Radio of 9/27/16 House Explosion

FDNY Radio 10 Codes

NYPD Radio 10 Codes

Full Audio: Wilmington Fire Scanner Audio from two firefighters killed while battling a house fire


Our condolences to the families, friends, firefighters, dispatchers, EMT’s, police officers and others who are suffering the loss of Wilmington firefighters Lt. Christopher Leach, Firefighter Jerry Fickes and FDNY Deputy Chief Michael Fahy. RIP.

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