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Become a 911 Dispatcher: Education Requirements and Salary Info

Learn how to become a 911 dispatcher. Research the career requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in emergency dispatching.

Should I Become a 911 Dispatcher?

Citizens experiencing an emergency, such as a fire or burglary, phone 911 to talk to a dispatcher. By quickly determining the situation and location, a 911 dispatcher is able to communicate the necessary information to fire fighters, police officers, or other emergency response technicians. 911 dispatchers can potentially save lives through their work.

The majority of dispatchers for police, fire, and ambulances are full-time and work 8- to 12-hour shifts. Some dispatching agencies may operate on 24-hour shifts. On-call and overtime hours are common and most shifts include evening, night, and/or weekend hours. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median annual salary for police, fire and ambulance dispatchers was $38,010 in May 2015.

The job can be very stressful due to the fact that dispatchers are often the receivers of life-and-death and other high-pressure or disturbing phone calls. The career can be greatly rewarding as well, because dispatchers play an important role in getting help to those who need it.

Career Requirements

It is not always necessary to have a degree to work as a dispatcher, but an associate's or bachelor's degree may be preferred by employers. You can get a degree in criminal justice, communications or computer science. Certification may be required depending on the state. You'll also need a clean criminal background, to pass a lie detector and drug test, good hearing and vision, and U.S. citizenship. As a dispatcher, you'll want strong listening skills, empathy, the ability to multi-task, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, typing skills, and proficiency in computer-aided dispatch software.

Steps to Become a 911 Dispatcher

The following are steps you can take to become a 911 dispatcher:

Step 1: Earn the Appropriate Education

In most cases, a high school diploma or the equivalent is enough for entry-level dispatcher positions, but some employers may not even require this level of education. In other cases, certain emergency response agencies may favor applicants who possess a college degree. The BLS reports that candidates with a two- or four-year degree in criminal justice, communications or computer science may have an advantage when applying for jobs. An associate's or bachelor's program can help you gain valuable skills to help you excel after graduation.

911 dispatchers need to possess a wide range of job-specific skills, so taking relevant electives outside of the major area of study can gain you experience. For example, a criminal justice major could benefit from computer courses, or a computer science major could benefit from liberal arts or communications courses.

Also think about taking a foreign language. According to the BLS, candidates who speak a foreign language may have an advantage over candidates who are not bilingual. Taking courses in a foreign language, such as Spanish, can give you a way to stand out in the job market.

Step 2: Complete the Application Process

Before becoming a 911 dispatcher, a lengthy application process has to be completed. First, a normal application is filled out and submitted to an emergency response office along with a resume. A self-assessment questionnaire is then filled out. Additionally, a typing examination may be required. If not, you may be asked for an official document certifying your typing skills.

Before being accepted into the training program, a thorough background check is performed to look for any criminal charges and illegal drug use, along with determining if you possess the necessary stress-resistant personality to handle this career. When you pass the background check, you'll have a final interview with a panel of professionals.

Step 3: Complete a Dispatcher Training Program

After being accepted as a potential 911 dispatcher, a training program must be completed. The BLS stated that programs typically require at least 40 hours of initial training in both a classroom setting and on the job. Training programs usually cover a variety of topics, including professional ethics, domestic violence, radio technology, telephone technology and more. Hands-on training is performed with experienced professions.

Step 4: Consider Certification

Certification is voluntary in some states and mandatory in others. Certification may be completed directly through the agency of employment in some cases and may be included as part of the training program.

Step 5: Participate in Continuing Education

Continuing education is a necessary requirement to remain in this vocation. A 911 dispatcher regularly participates in new training programs offered by his or her employer. Some dispatchers choose to fulfill this requirement by pursuing certification or coursework with organizations like the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch. This organization has certificate programs and classes available in fire, medical and police dispatching. Dispatchers may also choose to continue education with Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) training, which will enable them to give medical advice when taking calls.

Step 6: Advance to Management Positions

Experienced 911 dispatchers may advance to management positions, such as dispatch supervisor. These roles include duties such as training new dispatchers, designing policies and procedures, and performing administrative tasks. These positions typically require an associate's or bachelor's degree.

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