What dispatchers want you to know when calling for help
When 911 is dialed in the Anchorage area, the call is answered at the Anchorage Police Department. When a call comes in, it is determined by the police department whether it is a police call for help or medical. If the call is medical or fire in nature with no police needed assistance, the call is immediately sent to secondary dispatch centers.
"We try not to waste any time getting units going," lead dispatcher at Fire Station 12, Stephanie Wolf said. "When we get a phone call, the way it rings lets us know if it's a 911 call. It will also say something specific in the corner of our computer screen."
Wolf says location is the most important piece of information dispatchers want to get from the caller.
"It doesn't matter what is going on," Wolf said. "If we don't get people to the right location, then it's futile. So, we need to make sure we know where you are at. Getting the location and a call back number just in case the call drops, I need to know how to get a hold of you again."
Once dispatchers figure out what is going on, they will ask what is being reported. From there the dispatch staff can field the call into its triage system.
"If it's a medical call and it's not you with the issue but a friend, I want to talk to the friend," Wolf said. "This gives us a better understanding of what is happening."
Many people think it's only one person doing everything from the dispatch center. Wolf says that is not the case at all.
"A lot of things are happening in here simultaneously," Wolf said. "That is something the caller doesn't understand and we have to remind them. That's their single worst day, so, they don't understand. It's one of the most important things people should know, especially if your house is on fire or a loved one is not breathing. People feel all these questions we are asking you is delaying us getting to you and that is not the case."
What's happening is the information you give to dispatchers is actually helping them tend to your issue in the best way possible. The perception is dispatch is delaying sending help when the reality is its already on its way.
"We are talking to the crew while they are en route," Wolf said. "There is someone in our room that does not answer telephone calls that is dedicated to working the radios which means they are the person that talks to the units that are going to the call."
Dispatchers may also ask questions that may change the response.
"Maybe this person I've been talking to is no longer awake," Wolf said. "That turns into a completely different response so then we have to change it. That's why it's important for someone to be completely dedicated on those radios to make sure we are sending you exactly what you need."
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