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 ...

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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.

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