Every 911 dispatcher has their own story.
How they got involved in dispatch. What drew them in the first place. Why they stayed. Why they left.
There are as many different stories as there are dispatchers, because dispatch is such a deeply personal profession.
On a recent episode of the Pinpoint Podcast, we sat down with Ricardo Martinez, former 911 Dispatcher, Director of Communications at INDigital Telecom, and host of the Within the Trenches Podcast, for a chat around what got him started, some of the things that have impacted him along the way, why he started his podcast, and the driving force behind the #Iam911 movement.
In The Beginning
After interviewing for a job as a dispatcher, Ricardo hadn’t heard anything from the department for months. He thought that whatever he had said during his interview had clearly been the wrong thing.
Then came a knock at the door, while his mother, who spoke no English, told him that the police were at the door. The chief asked if he still wanted the job, he said of course, to which the chief replied, “Get some rest. You’re starting the midnight shift tonight.”
So needless to say, Ricardo was thrown into the deep end. It was time to find out if this was really for him.
His experience as a dispatcher was shaped by two very distinct events. The first being a face-to-face suicide interaction with a woman who’s husband had just taken his own life. He got to be the one to sit with her, talk with her, and help her walk through the experience.
That experience could have turned him off of dispatch entirely, but it only solidified his desire to be there for the public. To help people through their hardest times.
QUOTE: “Even though that kind of messed me up, it weirdly made me feel a little like there was some closure for that whole situation. It really solidified my desire to be a dispatcher.” Ricardo Martinez
Being a dispatcher in a small town means that eventually, you’ll end up talking with someone that you know, and that experience came full-circle when he took the 911 call from his cousin that his grandmother had passed.
Through the grief, he remained professional, got the job done, and then joined his family to mourn and celebrate the life of his grandmother. But through it all, he never wavered from his commitment to helping people through the darkest times in life.
Which brought him to his podcast.
Within the Trenches
As probably every dispatcher can attest to, people were always peppering Ricardo with questions. Wanting to know about his worst call. Or best call. Or funniest call. It was through those questions that he realized that the public just doesn’t really understand what goes on in a dispatch office, so what if he educated the public? Shared his stories?
QUOTE: “People in the general public, they quite frankly don’t get it. Why don’t I take this opportunity to educate the public?” Ricardo Martinez
What started as a class project sharing stories of his coworkers eventually led to a blog, which eventually led to a podcast where he shares stories both from his own experiences as a dispatcher, as well as those that have made a career out of dispatch.
The podcast then led Ricardo to start the #Iam911 movement.
In 2016, there were 2 911 organizations that were lobbying hard to get 911 dispatches moved into the protected class instead of the clerical class, which is where administrative workers and commercial dispatchers were located.
Ricardo thought that with the experience he had, as well as the podcast, that he could do some good. So he created a meme.
He made a meme. A glimpse into the types of calls that dispatchers receive all of the time. His meme was simply a picture of a midnight sky, which the caption, “I heard your last breath the night you flipped your 4-wheeler.”
He then posted the meme on the podcast’s facebook page and asked listeners to chime in with their own experiences. In the end, the hashtag #Iam911 was trending number 3 on Twitter, and had a reach of over 40M people on Facebook, from multiple countries.
His goal was simple. To remind people that 911 dispatchers do more than just take phone calls. That those phone calls stick with them. That they are ingrained in their memories. That there’s a mental health side to the dispatch world that isn’t often talked about.
The #Iam911 movement still has a long way to go, but with people like Ricardo behind the wheel, driving for change, it’s only a matter of time before the dispatchers are given the respect and resources that they deserve.