From Crisis to Composure The Emotional Rollercoaster of Being a 911 Dispatcher

From Crisis to Composure

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Being a 911 Dispatcher

By: Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon

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In the world of emergency response, amid the sirens and flashing lights, lies a group of individuals whose voices are rarely heard but whose impact is immeasurable- the 911 dispatchers. From the moment they don their headset to the final call of their shift, these unsung heroes navigate a whirlwind of chaos, calamity, and compassion, all while orchestrating lifesaving interventions with poise and precision.

These selfless individuals, stationed in call centers across the nation, serve as the first line of defense, guiding panicked callers through some of the most terrifying moments of their lives, dispatching responders to the correct locations, and navigating through lifesaving interventions. Yet, behind the scenes, the role of a 911 dispatcher is not without its emotional toll.


At the heart of the dispatcher's duty lies the weight of human suffering. Day in and day out, the dispatcher bears witness to the rawest of human emotions — panic, grief, fear, hopelessness, anger, desperation. From the harrowing screams of a victim to the agonizing silence of a life slipping away, a dispatcher navigates a minefield of trauma with every call answered.

The emotional toll of the job is compounded by the relentless nature of the work, long hours, and often calls pouring in without respite. Jessica Caudill, Dispatch Supervisor of the Boyd County Public Safety- Boyd County 911 for 13 years, shared, “The hours are hard when you have a family. We miss a lot of things in exchange to serve the public like all first responders do. Within an eight-hour working window, we typically handle about 80-150 calls per shift, midnights are a little slower and, in the summertime, or really bad weather the calls can triple.” Each ring of the phone heralds a new crisis, a new test of the dispatcher's resolve. Yet, amid the chaos, the dispatcher must remain calm, composed, and in control — the lifeline for those in need.

Long after the headset is removed and the shift is over, the echoes of the day's calls linger in the dispatcher's mind. The faces of those who were helped and the voices of those who couldn't be saved haunt the dispatcher's dreams and weigh heavy on the heart. The emotional toll of the job can manifest in a myriad ways from sleepless nights to strained relationships. The constant exposure to this type of trauma can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite the toll it takes, many dispatchers soldier on, driven by a sense of duty and a deep-seated desire to help others.

This is leading to a concerning trend that is emerging — a national shortage of dispatchers leaving many communities vulnerable and overburdened. Across the United States, the demand for 911 dispatchers has surged, fueled by population growth, technological advancements, and the evolving nature of emergencies. However, the supply of qualified dispatchers has failed to keep up with the pace, which has ultimately led to staffing shortages that strain an already stretched emergency response system.

          The consequences of this dispatcher shortage are far-reaching. In understaffed call centers, wait times may increase, delaying critical assistance to those in need. Dispatchers, already burdened with heavy workloads, may struggle to provide adequate support, jeopardizing the safety of both callers and responders.

          We must address this shortage, and the best place to start is with awareness. Many people may not realize that they can become a 911 dispatcher without having any prior experience or schooling. Caudill shared, “The awesome thing about working at a 911 center is that all your training is provided. To be a dispatcher in KY, you are required to attend a four-week in-person training at the Dept of Criminal Justice in Richmond, Ky after you are hired, which is followed by six months of on-the-job training.”

Caudill added, “If you are interested in helping the community and seeking a career as a first responder, DO IT! There is a national shortage of 911 Telecommunicators, especially in this area (Boyd County). The field is desperate for hardworking individuals looking for a career. You can start at around 45k/year with zero schooling required prior to accepting the job, and the benefits are excellent.”

          Being a 911 dispatcher is not for the faint of heart, but it can be a very rewarding job. Caudill commented, “There are a lot of things I do love about this job. My favorite personal thing is getting to talk to the elderly who are lonely. It’s not an actual “task” because lots of times they are just misdirected and need assistance finding another number or resource, and then we would typically disconnect. However, I like to take a personal interest in listening to them. Oftentimes, they are just frustrated because their remote isn't working or they can’t get ahold of a family member. The five minutes I get to talk to them and calm them might make their entire day- I love when they call in and are upset and by the end of the call they are talking about what they are going to each for lunch and have totally forgot what they were upset about. Those days I feel like I’ve made a difference on those days.”

          The role of the 911 dispatcher is both demanding and indispensable. The job itself brings with it burdens and rewards. From the chaos of the dispatch center to the quiet moments of connection with elderly callers, these dedicated individuals embody the true essence of compassion, strength, and courage. Though their efforts may go unnoticed by many, their impact resonates far and wide, ensuring that help is always just a phone call away.

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