Public safety is often dependent upon the expert coordination and swift movement of both fire and EMS units. Cities and municipalities generally employ Fire/EMS dispatchers, although many fire/EMS units handle more than one town or municipality, which means they may dispatch units to a number of districts. As such, the coordination of services is a critical component of many fire/EMS dispatcher jobs.
Fire/EMS dispatchers are generally employed in cities or municipalities without a central emergency communications dispatch center. In these locations, a primary 911 call taker determines if the emergency calls for fire and/or emergency medical services, and if so, then transfers the call to the fire and EMS dispatcher.
These emergency communications professionals are front and center for ensuring that communication is clear and that all fire and emergency medical dispatching is rapid and precise.
General job description of fire/EMS dispatchers are focused on:
- Monitoring and controlling the movement of fire and EMS units
- Using computer systems and dispatching equipment to communicate and coordinate activity with EMS and fire units, as well as with other agencies
- Dispatching peripheral assistance, including transportation requests, utility companies, tow trucks, and citizen responders
- Maintaining concise records of all dispatching activities, including unit assignments
- Monitoring the status of mobile units at the dispatch location
- Ascertaining the circumstances of the emergency or incident and relaying information to responding units and dispatch supervisors
- Determining if additional assistance is needed and diverting units from other fire districts
Qualifications and Skill Requirements of Fire and EMS Dispatchers
Fire/EMS dispatcher jobs require professionals who are able to maintain composure and self-control, even in the midst of stressful situations. Fire and EMS dispatchers must also have excellent communications skills, both verbally and written, and they must have strong organizational and interpersonal skills.
Ideal fire/EMS dispatchers possess:
- A high standard of ethical conduct
- The ability to communicate facts in a clear and concise manner
- The ability to understand and interpret information, including technical information, rules, regulations, and instructions
- The ability to handle people who are distressed, difficult, or even hostile
Like most dispatching careers, the minimum requirement for fire/EMS dispatchers is a high school diploma, although many cities and municipalities require a number of other proven skills, including:
- The ability to operate a computer aided dispatching system
- Knowledge of basic fire/EMS procedures as to effectively dispatch units
- A working knowledge of the surrounding geography as to best determine responses among districts and to ensure continuous coverage throughout all districts
- The ability to interpret maps, radio codes, and data received from a number of sources
- The ability to provide emergency medical assistance to callers
- The ability to follow strict policies and procedures, including special procedures for terrorist attacks and hazardous materials situations
Employment requirements often include a written exam, a typing skills test, a drug screening, and a background investigation. Certification may be required, and probationary periods are standard in this field. Although educational requirement vary, basic programs in emergency medical dispatch and fire communications are typically required for employment as a fire/EMS dispatcher.
Many fire/EMS dispatching jobs require some type of background in dispatching or customer service. Individuals with experience handling calls, solving problems, and relaying information often make ideal candidates for fire/EMS dispatching jobs.
The Fire/EMS Dispatching Process
When fire/EMS dispatchers receive a call for emergency response services, their first task is to enter all pertinent data using a computer-aided dispatching console. They must be able to quickly and accurately enter the data.
It is the responsibility of fire/EMS dispatchers to glean as much relevant information as possible from the caller as to direct the emergency response units to the exact location of the emergency and to provide them with as much information as possible as to best respond.
Upon receiving information from the caller, fire/EMS dispatchers determine the urgency of the call and dispatch the appropriate fire/EMS units. From there, they are responsible for keeping track of the dispatched units and transmitting information to the responding units. They may also need to provide emergency medical assistance to the caller while the units are in route.
Depending on the extent or nature of the fire or medical emergency, fire/EMS dispatchers may need to contact outside agencies or other city or municipal departments to coordinate aid and assistance. For example, they may contact the police department for police assistance or the utility company to shut off power.
In large-scale fire or medical emergencies, they may even need to call in the help of neighboring city or municipality fire/EMS units to provide backup assistance.