San José Fire Communications 911 Dispatchers - Do You Have What it Takes?

When someone is critically sick or injured, a family member, a neighbor, a witness calls 911 for help. A call taker answers the call and quickly gathers as much information as possible; Where is help needed? What happened? How many people are involved? The information is entered into the computer system. A second dispatcher sends the help while the call taker continues to collect information and provide instructions to the caller while help is on the way.

Ergonomic work stations allow the dispatchers to sit or stand while working.

Hundreds of emergency and non-emergency calls come into the the San José Fire Department Communications Center daily - 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Nights. Weekends. Holidays. Someone is always there to answer the phone. Have you ever wondered how the 911 system works? In San José, when someone calls 911, a Call Taker in the San José Police Communications Center answers the initial call. They quickly determine what kind of help is needed. If it is a fire, or if someone is sick, injured or having a baby, the SJPD Call Taker transfers the caller to a highly trained and skilled San José Fire Dispatcher who takes over the call.

Dispatchers use multiple computer systems and screens to do their job.

Being a 911 Dispatcher for the San José Fire Department is so much more than just answering the phone. When the first 911 calls came into San José, 911 call takers recorded all information with pen and paper. Today, the call takers and dispatchers are trained on sophisticated computerized phone, radio and dispatch systems. Several certifications are required in order to become a Dispatcher with SJFD. All certifications are obtained during the extensive in-house training.

dispatchers do their initial training in a classroom environment.

Once hired with the SJFD, a new dispatcher (Public Safety Radio Dispatcher - Trainee) goes through eight-weeks of classroom instruction in the in-house Fire Call Taker Academy. During the academy, the trainee becomes certified in CPR and in using the Emergency Medical Dispatcher Protocols and the Emergency Fire Dispatcher Protocols. These medical and fire protocols are used widely across the Nation. Remaining time in the academy is spent learning the different computer systems and the policies and procedures of San José Fire Communications.


After the academy, hands-on training with live 911 calls begins in the Fire Communications Center. Trainees work one-on-one with training officers for three to four months. During this training, the new dispatcher will spend time on each of the three shifts. This allows them to experience the different types of calls that each shift receives.

"I love that in this job I feel like I am helping people everyday. I feel like what I do makes a difference", Kristin Earhart, Psrd.

After this training period, the trainee goes back to the classroom for a four-week in-house Fire Radio Dispatcher Academy. It is during this academy that the trainee learns how to dispatch fire units to an emergency using a two-way radio and computerized dispatch system. After four weeks, the trainee continues with an additional four to five months of on-the-job training with training officers where they will continue to learn and perfect their radio dispatching skills.

Once training is complete, working independent of a trainer is both scary and exciting.

After the formal training, the dispatcher is ready to work on their own as a 911 call taker and radio dispatcher. Working as a 911 call taker, we talk to the caller while simultaneously typing information into the computer. The information is sent to another dispatcher who sends the help. The call taker continues to gather information and updates the computerized event.

Dispatchers often stay on the phone with a caller until help arrives.

In certain types of emergencies, the call taker will stay on the line with the caller until help arrives. The call taker can provide medical instructions which include how to assist the caller in delivering a baby, how to control bleeding, what to do if someone has had a seizure, and how to administer CPR. If a dispatcher is fortunate enough to help a caller deliver a baby or provide CPR instructions that results in saving someone's life, it is often referred to as the "call of a career".

A majority of the San José Fire Dispatcher's job is processing 911 calls for medical emergencies. The call taking process is standardized using a set of protocols that enables the dispatcher to provide direction and instruction specific to the caller's situation. The protocols allow for a consistent means of processing calls so that someone who calls 911 at 2:00 a.m. will receive the same amount of care and instruction as someone who calls at 4:00 p.m.

The job of a San José Fire Dispatcher can be tough. But at the end of the day, we know we helped someone through their time of crisis.

The City of San José covers 206 square miles and has a population of over 1,000,000 people. The San José Fire Department is comprised of 34 fire stations. San José Fire Dispatchers work in teams of five to six per shift. Each shift is eight to ten hours. Upwards of 250-300 calls are processed during each 24-hour period. The Dispatcher doesn't know what the next phone call will bring; Will it be a fire? Someone having a heart attack? Someone hit by a car? For whatever reason that someone needs to call 911, San José Fire Dispatchers are there to answer the call.

Fire Dispatchers work in close proximity which promotes teamwork. When it gets busy in the room, dispatchers can help each other with the various aspects of their job.

Do you have what it takes to be a dispatcher with the San José Fire Department? For more information about San José Fire Communications and to fill out an interest card, click the button.

Created by San José Fire Communications - Hiring and Training Unit. Some photos courtesy of Craig Allyn Rose Photography -

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San José Fire Communications

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