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April 16th, 2019
This is Public Safety Telecommunicator Week, and it turns out I'm a PST! And here you thought PST was one of those diseases they advertise pills for on late night TV.
My full time job is as a 911 dispatcher, which is, shall we say, stressful. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically stressful, but at least we don't have to work outside. Personally, by the time I'm finished with my four day rotation I'm bent like a pretzel and popping pain pills the way I'd like to be popping M&Ms.
We work a four day on, two day off rotation in my emergency communications center, which means every six weeks we get a weekend off. That's nice, but I also work nights, so whenever my days off are--I usually just want to sleep through them.
Still, days off are nice. There was one month late last year when I didn't get any.
Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. We introduced a new computer aided dispatch system, otherwise known as a CAD, a system that--well, you know--aids us in dispatching. And every dispatcher had to take a three day course in learning the system, a class sandwiched between the online course we had to take before and the practice we had to do after. But you can't just shut down an emergency communications department--well, you can, but it's not a swell idea. So instead, the class was divided up, with the dispatchers who weren't taking it at the time covering for the dispatchers who were.
When you combine that with the fact that two new dispatchers were still training, you get overtime.
So last September I worked 21 out of 22 days in a row. Which is just three weeks, so I did get days off that month. Not to mention I volunteered for a lot of that time, because our bosses don't generally force us to work on our days off. (Nights off, for me.) We do have to work over or come in early from time to time, as with this week--somebody has to do it. Others worked for me during my class, after all.
Twelve hour shifts get ... tiring. I'm not a fan. But I'm not making minimum wage for mucking hog barns, so what the heck.
But here's the thing. I got around 56 hours of overtime in two weeks, give or take--I'm not really clear on how it added up that day when I got off work at 5 and went back in at 11. I mentioned all this to an online group of dispatchers, and got their side of it.
44 hours of overtime, in one pay period.
73.5 total hours--in one week.
53 hours of OT in a pay period. 60. 88. 49. 71. 63. In one pay period. A pay period is usually two weeks. One dispatcher worked 134.75 hours during Hurricane Florence.
911 dispatch centers are chronically understaffed. The hours are crazy, the training is hard, and the stress can be incredible; this leads to people leaving, which leaves those left behind working long hours and training new people, which leads to them burning out and leaving ... and on and on. I'm of the opinion that anyone who lasts long enough to retire, like my boss and (in a year) me, are certifiable.
But where I work we have good, dedicated people, and the OT isn't nearly as bad as many other communications centers. This brings me to something I've always said, something we should all keep in mind. We all have problems, and they're legitimate problems. We all have complaints. I had a lower back injury three months ago that just does not want to heal up--apparently it has to do with this concept of not being as young as I used to be. You think I don't complain about that?
Just the same, I think there's one concept worth considering, something that might make us feel a bit better when we're tempted to complain:
It could be worse.
After all, I could be the one having to call 911.