Be an Emergency Dispatcher: Education and Career Roadmap

Jan 02, 2019

Learn how to become an emergency dispatcher. Research the job duties and education requirements, and find out how to start a career in emergency dispatch.

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  • 0:01 Career Info
  • 0:50 Get Training
  • 1:58 Work in the Field
  • 2:18 Earn Advanced Certification
  • 2:50 Consider a Degree
  • 3:23 Advance in Career

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Career Info

Emergency dispatchers answer and document emergency calls. These workers relay information to law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency response individuals so that the appropriate agency can respond. They may also dispense advice to callers.

This occupation may be quite stressful, since a large amount of responsibility rests on the dispatchers' shoulders. These dispatchers work varied schedules and overtime is common.

Degree Level Often none; some employers require postsecondary education
Degree Field Criminal justice, communications
Certification Some states require certification; voluntary certification is also available
Experience Training may be required; advancement is commensurate with experience
Key Skills Empathy, leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills; driver's license; U.S. citizenship
Salary (2015) $38,010 per year (median salary for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Get Training

While a career as an emergency dispatcher only requires a high school diploma or a G.E.D., a number of states require that individuals complete a training program prior to working in the field. Training programs are available at many colleges and schools as well as from such organizations as the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). Additionally, some agencies provide their own training programs.

These programs teach aspiring emergency dispatchers about medical protocol and the skills needed to respond to medical emergencies. Students can expect to learn through lectures as well as hands-on training. Typically, students end the course by becoming a certified Emergency Medical Dispatcher, which includes CPR certification.

To ensure that emergencies are properly dealt with in the quickest manner possible, emergency dispatchers must develop acute listening skills and speak in a clear, effective manner. Practicing communication skills while attending a training program can help prepare aspiring emergency dispatchers to work in the field.

Work in the Field

After completing a training program and earning necessary certifications, emergency dispatchers can begin to look for a position. Generally, employers look for high school graduates with driver's licenses and typing skills. A skills test and a background check may be required. Applicants may also be subject to a drug test.

Earn Advanced Certification

Initial emergency medical dispatch (EMD) training programs include certification, but advanced certifications are available for those wanting to continue their education. For example, the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch offers an ED-Q (Emergency Dispatch Quality Improvement Specialist) certification, which ensures that all certified individuals are knowledgeable in quality insurance. Instructor training is also available for those who wish to teach certification courses.

Consider a Degree

Some employers may also require postsecondary education, such as an associate's degree. Potential emergency dispatchers may pursue college-level coursework in criminal justice or communications. These programs prepare students for entry-level positions or for transfer to a four-year program. Students in an associate's-level criminal justice program take courses in such topics as juvenile delinquency and criminal law. Students in a communications program take courses in leadership, reasoning, and critical thinking.

Advance in Career

Emergency dispatchers have opportunities to advance based on their education, training, and experience. Dispatchers may have the choice of becoming senior dispatchers, supervisors, or instructors. From there, emergency dispatchers might become administrators responsible for overseeing agency procedures or training programs, among other areas.

To recap, emergency dispatchers are usually required to have a high school diploma or G.E.D. and to pass a background check before they can get on-the-job training and certification in their industry.

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