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The telephone number to contact the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system from most regions in the United States is 911. A 911 dispatcher relays information from citizens in need of emergency services and the location of those citizens to the appropriate agency so that help can be sent as quickly as possible. EMS systems in the United States are not nationally standardized, so the requirements to become a 911 dispatcher are not the same in all locations. Typical requirements include being a U.S. citizen who is at least 18 years old, having at least a high school diploma, possessing good oral and written communication skills and being able to pass a written exam.
Most agencies require all dispatchers to be at least 18 years of age and hold a high school diploma. Many also require U.S. citizenship and submission to a background check and a drug screening. Agencies that don't require a college degree might still require applicants to have at least earned some college credits, no matter whether they graduated. When this isn't a requirement, it might still be a very strong preference of the agency for which you want to work as a 911 dispatcher.
It's usually a good idea to verify with the agency to which you plan to apply to find out if they hire civilians. Some agencies have a policy of hiring strictly firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or other sworn officers. You also will want to increase your chances of being hired by acquiring certain skills that are needed to do the job. These skills involve typing at least 35 words per minute, computer literacy and successful multitasking. Vast customer service experience, particularly working with a diverse customer base, generally is considered essential if you want to become a 911 dispatcher.
Applicant screening processes usually involve taking a written exam to evaluate your short and long-term memory, accuracy and ability to think quickly under stress. The ability to remain calm, help calm others and communicate clearly and concisely are yet more skills you will need to become a 911 dispatcher. If you are younger than 18 years old, you might not have to wait until your 18th birthday before you begin your training. Some agencies offer the advantage of cadet training programs for which someone as young as 16 who wants to become a 911 dispatcher may register.
In some rural areas of the U.S., emergency services cannot be contacted by dialing 911; rather, those areas have a standard seven-digit emergency phone number. Areas that use 911 might have a regular emergency line or an enhanced one that tracks the physical location of the caller. Tracking is performed whether a land-line, car phone or cell phone is used to make the call. This is especially useful in cases involving callers who are very young, who are injured or who speak a language other than English or Spanish.
Like any job, ask yourself if you have the disposition for it. Dispatchers have to hold multiple thoughts in their head while they absorb and give out information. They also have to stay incredibly calm and collected under pressure.
Are these qualities that describe you? If they aren't, but being a dispatcher is something you've always wanted to do, don't worry. You can learn, practice, and get better over time.
Most community colleges offer excellent programs to get started in the emergency response field. Also, don't be afraid to go to your local fire station or hospital and ask around.
Most people working the desk (provided they don't have a call) will probably be excited to tell you how they became a 911 dispatcher.
Public services are also good about offering "ride alongs." Again, it varies from place to place, but I've ridden with both cops and ambulance drivers.
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