Keeping Firefighters Calm….

17th-and-Carrol-fire-June-29-2012-250x250Sometimes, in the middle of everything we see and do; it’s not easy to stay focused, cool, calm and collected. Most of the scenes we respond to are chaotic at best.

It’s our responsibility to establish an Incident Command System, take control and mitigate the situation. It’s often said that we (first responders) turn that emergency scene into “organized chaos”.

It’s not easy and, as Incident Commanders; we sometimes  loose control. We loose control and need help “reining it back in”.  We need a “trigger”. Something or someone to help get us focused and back on track. LIVES DEPEND ON IT!

You can usually tell the direction an incident is going to take by the voice of the first arriving Officer. Loud, screaming, nervous, unsure vs. calm, descriptive and directive.

Click to read ” A Vision of calm in the midst of Hell”

I’ve been there myself. I wrote about a major incident from 2012 where the presence of our Department Chaplain helped to refocus and calm me (that article found in the link above).

It was Father Sandy’s presence that calmed me that night but there has been a voice on the radio that has helped calm me throughout my career.

Photo from WDBJ 7

Photo from WDBJ 7

Cindy Bowles was been a 911 Dispatcher in our City for almost 30 years now. She is set to retire at the end of the month.

Here’s a secret…. the “tone” of an incident is NOT established by the first arriving Officer…. it all starts with the Dispatcher and Cindy is the best there is!

With no disrespect to the others, we all have our favorite Dispatchers and Cindy Bowles is obviously mine.

Even before taking in the first run of a tour, just knowing that Cindy is working the “fire board” gives me reassurance. It reassures me because it’s one thing that I don’t have to worry about. I know I have help on the other end of that radio…. someone who knows and understands what’s happening.

Many of the incidents that stick in my mind from over the years have Cindy on the radio. Her voice always clear and calm. She’s the type of dispatcher who will ask the IC (Incident Commander) if he needs “this” or “that” when they’ve forgotten to request it. She’s the type who will call up a company out on a GSW, stabbing or assault call just to check on their status because they haven’t had a radio transmission for a few minutes.

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911 Behind the blue wallI have a TON of respect for dispatchers. It’s not an easy job.

I know this because my sister, Sarah; once worked beside Cindy. Sarah was a good dispatcher as well. I assume it’s because Cindy helped train / mentor her. I remember being uneasy when my sister was on the board. I had just made Captain at “old” station #3 which was a busy house.

I always worried that what she had to hear me say and do would affect her. That it would affect how she handled the incident and that, in turn; would affect the other companies / members. It never did. Like Cindy, Sarah was a good dispatcher.

As much as I worried about things like that (and all the other aspects of the job), our Dispatchers have worries too. For me and Cindy, it’s almost personal. We know each others voice. She KNOWS thats Willie on the other end of the Radio. I’m sure I’m more than “Command”, “Division 2” or “E13” to her.

That’s what they say is one of the most difficult parts of being a dispatcher … the “unknown”. They almost never know the outcome of the incident they send us on. They take the call, get the details and send us out. They’ve talked family members through CPR, how to control a bleed and even child birth but never get to know if that person “made it” or not. With some of the incidents we run, it has to be a heavy burden to carry.

Cindy talks about that a little in the video below ……
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I want to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to all Dispatchers and give a special THANKS to Cindy Bowles. I hope you know how much you’ve helped me (and so many others) over the years. YOU’VE MADE A DIFFERENCE!

I hope you have a long and peaceful retirement …. you’ve earned it. JOB WELL DONE CINDY BOWLES… WELL DONE!

Here’s another popular Dispatcher. Listen as Dispatcher “Three- O” (Eddie Overton) signs off after 32 years of service…. all the Companies in Queens radio in to wish him luck.

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines