You may be able to begin your career as an emergency services dispatcher with only a high school diploma. however, some states do have postsecondary training requirements, and certification may be required as well.
Emergency service dispatchers answer emergency phone calls and direct the proper response units to the correct location. They describe pertinent details to police, fire and ambulance departments and may also give callers instructions while emergency assistance is on its way. Completion of a postsecondary education program is not required to become an emergency dispatcher, though many employers require a state-approved training program. Other requirements vary by state, though certification is common.
|Required Training||High school diploma, state-approved training|
|Projected Job Growth||-3% between 2014 and 2024*|
|Median Salary (2015)||$38,010 (for all police, fire and ambulance dispatchers)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Emergency Services Dispatcher Educational Requirements
Becoming an emergency service dispatcher doesn't entail any formal education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers typically have a high school diploma or GED, and many must get state certified. Dispatchers typically complete training on the job within the first 3-6 months of employment; however, some employers require that dispatchers complete training through a professional instruction program.
Formal training or certification is required in some states and by many employers. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO) offers training programs through its APCO Institute. Dispatchers who are certified in CPR by a nationally recognized health agency may pursue Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) certification by passing an on-campus or online training program. This certification program meets training standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The EMD program teaches trainees to take emergency calls, notify emergency services and instruct callers before help arrives. The curriculum covers topics such as federal and state regulations, information gathering, stress management and resource sharing. On-campus programs can be completed in four days of full-time classroom and practical instruction. Online programs take six weeks to complete and culminate in a practical demonstration conducted for the instructor via phone conference. EMDs must re-certify every two years by earning 24 hours of continuing education and showing proof of CPR certification.
Employers typically prefer to hire emergency service technicians with strong technical and communication skills because the position involves computer usage and regular correspondence with clients. Since dispatchers are generally available to the public 24 hours per day and year-round, the ability to work flexible shifts is also important. Emergency service dispatchers must be able to perform under stress and may be required to withhold confidential information.
Career Outlook and Salary Information
Employment in the field of police, fire and ambulance dispatchers is expected to decline by 3% from 2014 to 2024, per the BLS. The BLS also reported that the median annual salary for these professionals was $38,010 in May of 2015.
With an expected 3% employment decline in the field and both day and night-time shifts potentially required, emergency medical dispatching isn't for everyone. Individuals committed to the field can complete training programs that prepare them for certification, which is sometimes mandatory. The best job opportunities will likely go to dispatchers with excellent communication and computer skills.