Police, fire and ambulance dispatchers answer 911 and other emergency calls. They gather information from callers in order to determine the nature of the emergency so that they can then send the appropriate contingent of emergency responders. These workers must also be able to keep track of the position and status of various emergency response units so that they know who is available to respond and how quickly they can do so.
This can be a very stressful job. Callers to emergency lines are often distraught, frightened or upset. It can be difficult to get information about their situation in order to dispatch the appropriate personnel to assist them. Also, police, fire and ambulance dispatchers must be able to keep track of many different things at once. They may need to answer questions from the units they dispatched, provide directions to the scene of an emergency and communicate with the proper supervisory authorities.
Work in this field generally requires a high school diploma or equivalent and a period of on-the-job training.
Some states require police, fire and ambulance dispatchers to complete a formal training program and pass a certification exam although the specific requirements vary considerably from one state to another.
The job opportunities in this field should be very good over the next few years.
This type of work often requires weekend, overnight or overtime shifts.
Work Environment for Police, Fire and Ambulance Dispatchers
Police, fire and ambulance dispatchers generally work in an office environment. They typically have a desk or cubicle in a room with many other dispatchers. These workers spend most of their time on the phone, and they also need to be able to use their computer to keep track of calls and the status of each.
People who do this type of work spend most of their day seated at a desk. They may have to work long or irregular hours frequently and their breaks can be irregular because of the 24/7 nature of the emergency response system. Police, fire and ambulance dispatchers need to be able to interact well with many different types of people. They need to have excellent communication skills and function well as part of a team.
Education, Training and Licensing
The primary educational requirement for police, fire and ambulance dispatchers is a high school diploma or equivalent. Additionally, these workers may need to complete a formal training program and pass a certification exam in order to seek employment in the field. However, specific requirements for this sort of licensing vary considerably from one state to another.
In some states, these workers only receive on the job training by their employer and do not have to obtain any official certification. Anyone who wishes to advance to a supervisory or managerial position in this field may find it helpful to pursue either a two or four-year college degree.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
According to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 98,090 police, fire and ambulance dispatchers employed in May 2009. It is expected that the overall employment in this field will increase by about 18% from 2008 levels through 2018 due to an increasing demand for emergency and related services. This will generate many good job opportunities for anyone interested in this type of work.
The BLS also reports that the median annual income for police, fire and ambulance dispatchers was $34,790 in May 2009. The middle 50% of wage earners in this category made between $27,550 and $43,660, while the bottom 10% made less than $22,200. The top 10% bracket of police, fire and ambulance dispatchers made more than $53,190.