Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Scared Silly

I spent 19 years working at Kodak. The last ten were working as an employment law paralegal. I'd earned a degree taking night courses at a local college. When January 2009 came, and I knew I'd be laid off, I assumed--something never safe to do--that I'd be employable.

I contacted all the lawfirms Kodak dealt with and explained that due to the on-going downsizings, I'd been let go and would love to work at SAID firm. Got a lot of responses. Positive ones. But no interviews. Next, I contacted other law firms, certain someone in the city had to be hiring. My resume was polished, and I knew it was just a matter of time before I received a call from one of them.

Fortunately Kodak offered a wonderful severence package. Two-weeks pay for each year of service, and free health benefits for the first four months. By April, when the benefits expired, and I still didn't have a job, I began to panic.

The hiring process at 9-1-1 was underway, but if you read previous blogs you'll see it moved along slowly.  Fortunately, my severence pay ended at the end of September. My job with 9-1-1 started at the end of October. I planned for this, and set aside as much money each week as possible, knowing I'd need a bit of a nest egg to get me through 6 weeks without a check.

I can honestly say that I drove on fumes until my first city paycheck.

In class, a lot of the training revolved around a central topic: Things You Should Not Do If You Want To Keep Your Job.

The list was extensive. Each example was filled with more examples of how employment terminated over the years.

No cell phones on the operations floor.

Problem here is simple. If an operator gets a call that requires police need to be dispatched. Let's say the operator knows the suspect the police are looking for. The natural response of the operator might be to text the "suspect" and warn them. Think about it. It could happen.

Cell phones are also a distraction. Face it. People can't drive to the corner store without texting while at the wheel. With emergency calls coming in, operators need to be focused. A cell phone is clearly a distraction. Texting might keep an operator from answering a call immediately, or might tempt an operator to multi-task -- and what I mean by that is: Listen to the caller, type in the information, all while thumbing a text to a girlfriend. Hmmm. Seems like an easy way to make a serious mistake.

No sharing confidential information.

Should be self explanatory, right? It's been told that employees have been terminated for talking outside of work. Sharing specifics about calls taken during a shift. Might seem innocent enough. The way I hear it, someone was talking about a call in a diner or something. They said the name or address of a call they'd taken, and then openly mocked the caller. Problem here? Couple in the booth behind them knew the caller. Word got back that a 9-1-1 operator was blabbing their business in public. Call was made to the office. Complaint filed. Employee ... gone.

The computers at 9-1-1 allow operators and dispatchers access to information "civilians" wouldn't have access to. Warrant databanks, criminal records, medical information. You get caught taking that information off the operations floor and out of the facility at night, you might as well keep walking. No sense coming back to work. Sounds crazy, but apparently, it's happened. And sometimes, criminal charges have been filed against the 9-1-1 employee.

Customer service is key.

What is 9-1-1 but a glorified call-center? We provide customer service to the public. Instead of complaints surrounding ill-tempered cable problems, or computer malfunctions ... we're sending police, fire or ambulances ... so maybe "glorified" is too simplistic.

Bottom line still applies. The caller is the customer. Treat them with respect. It's important to always remember that they are calling 9-1-1 during a crisis in their life. This means they may be irrational, mean, or hysterical. They may not treat the operator with respect. In fact, they more than likely won't treat the operator with respect. Regardless, it is our job to calm them, gather information, and get help out as quickly as possible.

What this means? No hanging up on the caller. 

Uh-huh. Got it.

Welcome probie.

My bad. In earlier blogs I kept referring to myself as a trainee. Wrong term. We're probies. Us new people. (Prohbational employees). The title sticks until certification. Cerftification comes roughly eight months out. Our job as probies -- keep your head down, your mouth shut, and your ears open.

9-1-1 is like any place of employment. Different personalities abound. Clicks for one kind of group here, clicks for another, there. Probies should avoid getting caught up in the drama. Our role is to learn. Study. Ask meaningful questions. Keep the nose clean. Focus on the job.

Apparently it's easy to get sucked in. Tough thing is, if you require additional training supervisors and employees are either going to say the probie's been working hard, and studying, or the probie's been goofing around and not concentrating on the task of learning. If you fall into the latter, come certification time that could be the difference between getting extra help, or being let go.

There are more examples of what one can fo to get fired ... and I am certain more examples will appear in future blogs. But for right now, without giving myself a panic attack, I am going to stop.

I get the rules. I've heard them repeated more than once, by more than one person.

I know what needs doing, and plan to work to get done what needs getting done ...

******Be sure to stop in often to read more of this blog********

Thomas Phillips
Author of The Molech Prophecy and 2010 release of Convicted

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

First Police Ride-Along

It's one thing to take 9-1-1 calls and send police out on a job, and quite another to be the police sent to respond. Part of the five-week training program was to participate in three police ride-alongs. Spending a full eight-hour shift in a squad car, partnered up with the county's finest.

This particular 9-1-1 call center is responsible for dispatching city police, sheriff's who cover the county and some surrounded suburban towns, town police departments, as well as state police. I've read articles and heard talk that sometimes relationships between police and dispatchers is sometimes strained. (Read an article about this: The "love/hate relationship between cops and their dispatchers). Tempers flare on both sides of the radio. One side worries not enough information is being provided, the other thinks too much is coming across. One side is hard to understand, the other is timid about asking to have information repeated. But lets face it, although different, high-stress clearly can exist on either/both sides of the radio.

The purpose of ride-alongs is two-fold. First, it allows us at 9-1-1 the opportunity to see how things work on the other end of the radio, and to see "our" information in action on the MDTs (Mobile Data Terminal--the mini computers affixed inside patrol cars). And second, to help establish, build and maintain a sense of unity between the two departments. After all we're one team, working together to make the communities safe, right? Of course right.

As a writer, I've developed relationships with police officers. When I write crime novels, even though they are fiction, I know my fiction needs to be factual. In addition, a close friend of mine is an officer with the city police. When I found out I was going on a ride-along, naturally, I contacted her. Although she had a foot patrol downtown, she assured me I could ride ... get this ... shotgun with her fiance.

On Friday we trainees were not to report to 9-1-1 for classroom training. Instead, we'd report to our prospective police departments. I choose to do an 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM shift. This is referred to as 2nd Platoon.

I met my officer, we'll call him Hank, at 7:30 AM. Roll call started at 7:45.

Just like Hill Street Blues, the city officers met in a large room. Tables and chairs filled quickly. I sat in back. Didn't want to be in the way. I listened to roll call with great interest. Sergants announced areas of the city that required special attention. Groups that needed looking in on. And on policies that had been revised.

Once assigned a squad car, and after Hank gathered up his gear, we started out on patrol. Sort of.

First stop, Dunkin Donuts. Like to say I'm kidding. I'm not. Hank swore it was not a sterotype since he wasn't getting a donut or coffee, but a bagel and juice. Suppose he's right. Thankfully, we were not alone. Four other officers joined us. One, newer to the force, had a lady from my class as his ride-along.

After breakfast, we hit the road. Hank explained the boundaries of his beat. We cruised the street. He pointed out prostitutes, and assured me every time we passed by the same ladies would be out, walking up and down the sidewalk. (And each time we passed by, the same ladies would be out, walking up and down the sidewalk -- for the full eight hour shift. Hmmm).

Hank, a young guy, had been a police officer for just over five years. He had nearly completed his MBA. He planned to leave the force soon in order to work a desk job. Being a cop was something he always wanted to do. Knew if he didn't try, he'd always wonder if he'd of had what it takes, all the while knowing his career was headed toward a shirt and tie future.

First call we get is a missing person call. We head to a residence. Woman meets us outside. Hank and I exit the car. Thing is, he's dressed in a uniform. I'm in dress pants, dress shirt. Who does the lady talk to? Me. I look like I'm Hank's supervisor or something. I keep my mouth shut. Nod appropriately. Basically, just listen. Hank's smiling, knows what's going on. He's getting down the info, and just about the time I'm about to act the role of captain and say something, he takes over. Back in the car, he laughs, tells me he knew that would happen, her thinking I'm the authority.

Funny thing is, happened on every call. And Hank allowed it. I just wish I had a pen and clipboard or something. Look more official, you know?

We went lights and sirens once. Drove at some top speeds. By the time we arrived where we were headed, the call had been handled. Didn't matter to me. I just appreciated the thrill of it all. It had been a suspected burglary in progress. Turns out the burglary already occurred. The home owner rented out a place. While vacant, someone had broken in and ripped out all the copper plumbing.

At the end of the shift, I had a better appreciation for what officers do. Always respected them, their work, their stress. Seeing it first hand made it more real, authentic.

I knew one thing for sure, I was already looking forward to the second ride-along, which was scheduled for two weeks later.

And I learned that officers appreciate as much information as possible from dispatch, as well as being given the opportunity to have back-up accompany them. They don't want it, they'll refuse. But the opportunity for it is important.

*****Be Sure To Stop Back Often, Or Click To Follow This Blog******

Thomas Phillips,
Author of The Molech Prophecy and 2010 release of Convicted

Enough Acronyms To Make You T.H.I.N.K.

For five weeks of classroom training, enough text books were handed out to make one feel like they'd entered law school.

I was hired to be a Fire / EMT dispatch. This meant, when all is said and done, I won't be sitting on the phones taking 9-1-1 calls, but working the radios, dispatching fire trucks and ambulances where needed. Regardless, I was expected to learn how to handle calls. But in less time than one hired specifically for that position. The employees who answer 9-1-1 calls are referred to as Telecommunicators.

That's what just started. Telecommunicator training.

I've got the books to prove it.

Two three ring binders, stuffed full, covered policies and procedures, and was assured we'd review each and every one. There was also a TCC reference book that we'd go through, cover to cover.

Attention was drawn to six pages in particular. Event codes. The acronyms found on the pages were followed by descriptions, or definitions. When a TCC gets a call, they need to conduct an interview. Based on the answers, they must then decided what event code is needed. The entered event codes tell the computer if a police, fire, ambulance, or any combination is required. I stopped counting event codes at around 100. I know there's more. The index cards I bought to make study flash cards came in a 100 pack. And I used them. All. With pages worth of codes left to copy.

For the most part the acronyms made sense. If there is a fight, the code is FGHT. For a motor vehicle accident, MVA. The tough part came from the exceptions to the rule. Made it tougher to memorize. For example, the event code, FIREB is for brush and grass fires, or any small fire not involving a structure, or vehicle. But it is also used for suspicious packages received in the mail. (Guess we can thank 9/11 for the need of such an event code description).

Acronyms don't stop there. Towns, counties, police and fire departments, forms, and computer systems are all acronym named. Again, most make sense to hear them. To see them. But to remember them? Not so much.

When a TCC takes a call, they have to--aside from gather information such as the caller's name, number they're calling from, address where they need assistance--type in TEXT to explain what is going on to the Fire/EMT or Police dispatch. The TEXT is abbreviation-driven. Naturally. Black is BK, Northbound is NB, last seen wearing is LSW, do not identify is DNI ... again, mostly simple, common sense abbreviations, but remembering which words need to be abbreviated, and which don't matter, are required, expected.

It's a whole new language is what I'm saying. And the alphabet--forgiddaboudit. Unlike the military, 9-1-1 doesn't use Alpha for A, Beta for B, Charlie for C. They have their own way of announcing letters over the air. It's name based. Adam ... and I can't remember the rest. They are not in front of me. The point, I think, I've made.

For the next several weeks, while reviewing policies and procedures, I've begun to dedicate breaks, lunches and time at home to studying the acronyms and abbreviations. When the five weeks is up, when I'm expected to spend another five weeks taking 9-1-1 calls, my goal is to be ready, knowledgeable of the event codes, abbreviations and acronyms, if not having them committed to memory.

*******Stop Back Often, or Click to Follow This Blog ... More To Follow*******

Thomas Phillips
Author of The Molech Prophecy and the 2010 release of Convicted

Friday, November 27, 2009

It's In The Numbers

Wednesday, October 28, 2009:

It was explained that, of 500 people who took the 9-1-1 exam, 50 were selected for interviews. Of the 50 selected, 24 were sent on to complete the physical, fingerprinting, psychological exam, and criminal background check. Of the 24 they hoped to have 12 new recruits.

On Monday morning, October 26, 2009, 7 of us showed up for work.

As a Dispatcher, the laid-out training schedule looked intense and intimidating. Five weeks of classroom training, one month taking 9-1-1 calls on the floor, three more weeks of classroom training as a dispatcher, and then three months on the floor with a dispatch trainer before I could even be considered for certification.

Two giant three ring binders and a text book sat in my place in the classroom.  Of the seven, I was the only male.

Three of us were assigned to be Fire / EMS (ambulance) dispatchers, two were to become police dispatchers, and two were set to be TCC (telecommunicators--or the one's who take the initial 9-1-1 calls).

Classes were held in an exact duplicate room to that of the 9-1-1 operations floor. Only difference was, this training room was not live. In the event of an emergency (loss of power to the main operations floor, fire, or some kind of unexpected accident, the training ops room -- by the flick of a switch -- could be made live).  Aside from the two operations centers in the one building, there were two other off-site locations should the main building ever become incapacitated completely.

The two operation centers were separated by a beautiful, well lit, atrium. A tree grew in the center. Branches reached up toward the massive skylight. Although there is no cafeteria, there is a full functioning kitchen with an industrial stove and microwaves, sink, dishwasher, stocked cupboards and a refrigerator.

Both the men and women locker rooms housed shower stalls and snaked through to a weight/workout room.

The main operations floor, sectioned off by bulletproof and fire resistant glass, revealed an array of work stations. TCC operators occupied the center. The left stations were for the police dispatchers. Fire/EMS sat on the right.

Big screen, flat TVs hung suspended from the ceiling and showed everyone what jobs were in cue, the job priorities, and which jobs had been dispatched.

Certified operators wore uniforms. Blue dress pants, light blue dress shirts. Silver 9-1-1 pins on each collar. A badge over the heart. Name plate on the opposite side. Trainees dressed in business casual clothing, until certified. Which meant we stuck out to everyone. And would continue to do so for roughly the next eight to nine months.

Work shifts were called Platoons. 1st platoon worked from midnight to eight; 2nd Platoon worked eight to four, and 3rd Platoon work four to midnight. I was told during the interview that, if hired, expect to work 1st or 3rd Platoon for at least seven years.

That might bother some people. Working nights or overnights takes a tole. I know. For the first six years at my previous job I worked 12-hour shifts, on a four-day rotation. Two 12-hour days, two 12-hour nights, then four days off. The body never gets used to that. You never knew if you should be having a burger, or scrambled eggs. Forget remembering what day of the week it was. Didn't matter. Just needed to remember where you were in the work cycle.

I'm divorce. Get my kids every other weekend and one day during the week. I lived for them. Live for them, still. Working the overnights suits me fine. Midnight to eights would allow me to still go to every sports practice and game, cheerleading competitions, dance recitals, and all the school functions. Four to midnight would make life much tougher. If I got any say in the matter, 1st Platoon was my first choice. The goal, if it mattered, became to shine in class with the hopes that it might allow me the opportunity to select 1st Platoon if the opportunity presented itself.

One of the three ring binders was filled with 9-1-1 procedures. As a class we were going to review every one. The other was a TCC/Dispatcher manual. And the text book was a general overview of the roles and responsibilities of being a TCC operator.

We did an around-the-room introduction. The class I was in seemed good. The people, friendly. The instructor, knowledgeable. I'd barely slept the night before. Kept checking my alarm to make sure I hadn't over slept, or mis-set the alarm. After all, I hadn't worked in nine months. Getting up on time was not an issue when you're unemployed.

I wasn't tired. I felt ready. While the 26th and 27th had been administrative days -- filling out paperwork for direct deposit, and health care, and sexual harassment and workplace violence training, today, the 28th, was the first day of actual classroom training for the new job. No. strike that. It was the first day of actual classroom training for the new career.

****Stop Back Regularly to Read Updates on Nicholas, the 9-1-1 Trainee****

Thomas Phillips,
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting From There To Here

It was just before Halloween, 2008, when I was called into my supervisor's office. He'd told me and the other paralegal that due to a decline in business one of us was going to be let go. Part of me wanted the other paralegal to be laid off. The other, wanted it to be me who was impacted. Not sure why I felt that way. I'd spent 19 years with the company. Had an office, an admin, and knew the job inside and out.

I worked as an employment law paralegal. Handled complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the various state agencies. I investigated charges of alleged discrimination, prepped witnesses, and supervisors, dealt with all levels of management and outside law firms. Every day was a new adventure.

At the same time, I was losing my zest for the position. I was ready for a change. Maybe that was why part of me wanted to be the one selected for layoff.

When I entered my supervisor's office, and closed the door, he asked me to sit.  I sat. I knew at that moment it was in fact me who was about to lose my job. I'm not sure how I felt when he confirmed this for me. Like someone had punched me in the gut. I was good at my job. The only one in the legal department who did the kind of work I did, and had been doing for a long time. The rationale was that the tasks I performed were going to be pushed onto Human Resources.

I was given sixty days to find other employment. Technically I no longer needed to report to work. However, I was allowed to use the computer and other resources to begin my new job search.

On the county website I found job postings for a 9-1-1 Dispatch Operator. I completed the application and submitted it.

Growing up I wanted to be a police officer. Even started my college days enrolled in a criminal justice program. When I learned that due to my eyesight I would not pass a police entrance physical because of such poor vision, I gave up. A shame, really. Could have used that degree to expand into an array of positions. But I'd been young, and didn't know how to see the bigger picture at the time.

Over the next several months I submitted resumes and job applications to select posts at first, and then to pretty much anywhere as I began to panic about my lack of employment. Luckily, I was given severance pay that would carry me until the end of September 2009.  That, and unemployment insurance -- since, after all, I had lost my job through no fault of my own.

In February I received a letter from the county telling me that an exam for the 9-1-1 Dispatch position was scheduled for early April.  That day came, and I went, and I thought for sure I'd blown the test. We were given 20 minutes to review test directions, maps, codes and abbreviations, as well as Police squad car numbers and assigned work areas. Wearing headphones and listening to mock emergency calls, I was then to enter addresses, brief text about the emergency, forced to search the map for the location of the call, and figure out which officers to dispatch to the scene.  Between each call was about 60 seconds of silence in which to complete the computer form.

I walked out of the exam thinking, "Well, I won't be hearing back from them."

In June, I found out I'd scored a 90% and that I'd be called for the next open interview.

I had contacted a temporary employment agency by now. No one had responded to any of the resumes I'd sent out. I was starting to feel apprehensive about not yet having a job. The unemployment rate was on the rise, and it seemed like -- despite my experience and degree -- no one was hiring paralegals. The agency landed me a job in a factory, working 12-hour shifts.

Thankfully, my interview with 9-1-1 was scheduled for mid-June, followed by 4-hours sitting on the operations floor listening in on actual calls.

In late July, I was sent a letter of conditional employment. The conditions of employment were based on my passing a: 1) Physical, 2) Finger printing check, 3) Police background check, 4) Drug test, and 5) Psychological exam.

These appointments were set for early August.

We, candidates, were told we would not know specifics of pass/fail.

In September I received yet another letter from the county. I'll admit, I was nervous about opening it. While I knew I'd pass the physical, finger printing, police background and drug test, the psychological exam had me worried. Not that I thought I was crazy. But because the thousands of questions asked and answered left me feeling light-headed and unsure about anything. The one-on-one with the psychologist lasted twenty minutes. He focused his questions on my temper, and recent divorce. I answered questions truthfully, but wondered what it was, exactly, he was digging for.

When I opened the envelope I let out a sigh.

I was to begin training for a new job with 9-1-1 on Monday, October 26, 2009 ...

****Please stop back to read more*****

Thomas Phillips
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My friend, let's call him Nicholas, now works for 9-1-1 as a Dispatch Operator. It wasn't something he's always done. In fact, it wasn't a job he ever expected to land. The thing is, before I can tell you about his new life in Emergency Communications, I need to first tell you a little something about the man he was before.

I have chosen to tell this blog in first person. Voice impacts the way a story flows. And although this is true and acurate, I will tell the tale as if I were Nicholas.

We have all seen reality shows that deal with the-day-in-the-life-of Cops, Ambulance Rescue, and even Meter Maids.  This blog will be similar.  However, I want to point out that this blog (chronicle) will cover the first year of Nicholas' training, from classroom setting, to on the operations floor training, up to eventual certification in the Emergence Communications Department of 9-1-1. IT WILL NOT entail specifics of calls received or dispatched, due to confidentiality and privacy, but WILL include the human element, focusing on the thoughts and emotions that flood through our "main character" as he adapts to new life in a high-stress, high-energy position.

Please stop back regularly to follow along as Nicholas goes from working as an employment law paralegal, to unemployed, to 9-1-1 Dispatch Operator ... And feel free to invite friends and family along for the ride!  (Feedback/Questions are not only welcome, but encouraged!)