Thursday, May 20, 2010

You just never know...

Last Friday, I attended a class for work in Sykesville, MD called "You Just Never Know" - it was put on by the Public Safety Training Consultants (PSTC911) and was advertised as their newest post in-service class for 9-1-1 professionals. Here is the class description: You just never know what is waiting at the other end of that next incoming phone call or radio transmission. What is your demeanor as the call comes in? Are you prepared to really listen to the next caller or are you about to make a snap judgment or poor decision due to being “burnt out” or under prepared for the call. The amazing instructional team has built a brand new class that prepares you for that next crazy, challenging, unbelievable or seemingly mundane call for service.

Skill building is our goal, increased performance is the outcome.

Now I'll be honest with you - the main reason I signed up to take this class was because I knew it would give me an "extra" night off (they had flexed me off of midnight shift the night before so that I could go to the class during the day on Friday, which was one of my days off) - I hadn't paid much attention to what the class was supposed to be about and the last thing I expected to do was actually LEARN something! Boy, was I wrong! It's not that I think I know everything but I guess that after 10 years of working as a 911 dispatcher, I've seen and heard just about everything imaginable... and even some things unimaginable! But despite the fact that I went to this class with a somewhat closed mind and not expecting to learn anything, not only did I learn ALOT but it also opened my eyes to some things that I've become very complacent about over the years, without even realizing it. I think that people in this line of work have a tendency to become jaded after awhile but I don't want to be "that" dispatcher you hear on the news one day... this class was my wake up call.

We talked about the types of incidents we handle on a daily basis: low risk/high frequency (alarms, notifications, road hazards, parking complaints, patrol requests, etc), low risk/low frequency (barking dogs, liquor law violations, banning letters, open burning complaints, fraud calls, etc), high risk/high frequency (domestics, assaults, traffic stops, 911 hangups, suicidal calls, DUI/DWI, disorderly, etc) and high risk/low frequency (active shooters, bank robberies, mass casualty incidents, plane crashes, terrorist events, bomb threats, etc) and the differences between each of those. We talked about understanding and focusing on what a caller is actually saying and not on how they say it. We recognized that what we say and do can and will have a definite impact on the overall call. I think sometimes we forget that part... I know I do. We talked about liability concerns and about our duty and what the community expects of us. We talked about sinking vehicles and what instructions we should give to a caller whose vehicle is sinking in the split seconds we have before the line disconnects. We watched a video that showed us just how fast a vehicle can sink... a reminder of what little time there is to help the people inside. We listened to 3 different 911 calls for people in sinking vehicles... sadly, not one of those people (Kimberlyn Rae Kendrick, Karla Gutierrez, & Umberto Delgado) lived to tell about it. I'm not going to say that the reason they didn't live was solely because the 911 dispatchers who took their calls didn't do what they should've done or were supposed to do, but it was very obvious that it was a contributing factor.

We listened to lots of 911 calls, most of which had poor outcomes... we talked about what we would've said or done differently if it had been us, but most of all we were able to learn from someone else's mistakes. These calls planted seeds that will help us to deal with similar situations in the future, should we ever be faced with them. We listened to a call in which a California Highway Patrol Officer, Tony Pedeferri, was on a traffic stop when he and the vehicle he had stopped were struck by a drunk driver. The vehicle he had stopped burst into flames and the driver was killed instantly; Officer Pedeferri was thrown 30-40 feet into a ditch that was about 5 feet deep and covered with heavy brush that was about 8-10 feet tall... once located, he was found to be in cardiac arrest. It is nothing short of a miracle that, although paralyzed from the armpits down, Tony is still alive today. He spent 5 months in a hospital and many more months after that recovering from his injuries and although they are very devastating injuries, I'm so thankful that he's alive!! Here's a link to his website, where you can watch a video about the incident... but make sure you have some tissues handy!

Another call we listened to was about a shooting; the 911 dispatcher who answered that call just happened to be the victim's mother. During the course of that call, the 911 dispatcher switched roles from 911 dispatcher to mother, back to 911 dispatcher. That's one fear I've always had while working this job... that one day the emergency on the other end of the line or the radio will involve one of my family members, because I'm not sure that I'll be able to function as well as that dispatcher did.

Another call we listened to was involving a girl named Denise Amber Lee. In January of 2008, Denise was kidnapped from her home in Florida by a man named Michael King. Despite the fact that Denise herself (calling from her abductor's cellphone) and several others had attempted to call for help through the 911 system, there was a lack of communication and she was not found until it was too late. Five 911 calls were made that day, including one by a witness who gave a detailed account of events as they unfolded before her. However, the information that the witness provided were never passed onto police in the area. Denise's body was found in a shallow grave a few days later; she had been raped and murdered. Denise was 21 years old... she was a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother. She had a husband (Nathan) and 2 little boys (Noah and Adam) who will have to live the rest of their lives without their wife and mother... a big part of that is due to the HUGE mistake the 911 dispatchers made. I don't want there to ever be another Denise and I definitely don't want it to happen under my watch.

Another notable call we listened to (and probably the one I learned the most from) was from a woman who called 911 (listen to the 911 call here) because she was being held hostage in her home by a man who had broken in... but she couldn't tell the 911 dispatcher that because the suspect was standing right in front of her. She asked the 911 dispatcher a question about the paperwork that is required when applying to be a substitute teacher at a school... that question could easily have been brushed off or referred to somewhere else. In fact, the dispatcher even stated: "911 is for life or death emergencies... do you have a life or death emergency?" to which the caller replied "yes, ma'am". That gives me chills. Every single day, we answer 911 calls that are non-emergencies. Sometimes they're not even related to public safety at all... and they happen so often that it's easy to get frustrated and think to yourself "why are they calling 911 for this??" without considering that someone might be holding a gun to their head or a knife to their throat. I don't think I'll answer another 911 call without thinking about this call and wondering if my caller really dialed accidentally or if there is some emergency they're not able to tell me about.

"You Just Never Know" was not only a funny and informative class, but it was also the reminder I needed about why I come to work every day. I want all of my officers to return to their families at the end of their shift, even if they do drive me crazy sometimes. I want all of my callers to stay safe even if they do cuss me out and call me names once in awhile. Sometimes it's easy to forget that the reason I chose this line of work is because of my desire to help people in whatever capacity they need... no matter how silly the request, I want to make a difference in people's lives. And it's true what they say... you just never know!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sick and tired of being sick and tired...

I am SO sick and tired of being sick and tired! Spring has been making its presence known in Maryland for several weeks now and my allergies are going CA-RAZY! Despite the Zyrtec pill I take every day and the Benadryl pills I take every day that I work, I've had a sore throat for almost 2 weeks, my nose is stuffy and runny at the same time, my ears are itchy, etc. Basically I am miserable... combined with the fact that I can't ever seem to catch up on my sleep, no matter how hard I try.

So... I've been thinking, for the first time EVER, about putting in a transfer to go to dayshift. *GASP* I know, I never thought I'd say it either. For most of my life I've been called a night owl. For some reason, I just function better at night. In the past decade that I've worked at the 911 center, I've worked every shift there is. When I first started here, we worked 12-hour shifts on a rotating schedule of 4 days on/4 days off. I worked a year of 7pm-7am, followed by a year of 7am-7pm. Then we switched to 8.5 hour shifts on a rotating schedule of 5 days on/3 days off. I worked evening shift for 6 years and at the time, the hours worked well for me and my lifestyle. I could stay up late AND sleep late... it was like the best of both worlds! Most of the time I stayed up for almost the entire night before going to bed when the sun came up. Then I'd sleep almost all day until it was time to get up for work again. The problem with this is that I felt like I never got anything accomplished. I thought about it and decided that if I was going to be up all night, I might as well be at work and get paid a little more for it. So 2 years ago, I transferred to the midnight shift. And since then it feels like no matter how much sleep I get, I'm always tired.

Don't get me wrong, midnight shift has it's advantages... like the 7% shift differential, the out-of-classification pay I earn each time I'm in charge of my co-workers (atleast 3 days a week), a significantly slower call volume, and the fact that I've got quite a bit of seniority compared to other people on the shift. But it also has disadvantages too... mostly the exhaustion I feel virtually every minute of every day. If I transfer to dayshift, I'll lose the shift differential and the out-of-classification pay and the seniority... but in exchange for that, I'll gain a more "normal" lifestyle. I can sleep when the rest of the world sleeps, which means I'll no longer be fighting my internal circadian clock all the time. I can eat dinner with Brian every night, and participate in "normal" evening activities like taking a walk or watching TV.

My mom thinks that before I submit a transfer request to go to dayshift, I should experiment with a different sleep pattern. For the past 2 years I've been sleeping during the evening... that gives me the daytime hours to get any errands run or complete any other tasks that I need to and then I try to be in bed no later than 2 or 3pm. I sleep up until 10pm, then I take a shower and get dressed for work... I usually leave around 10:30 to make it to work by 11pm. As part of the new sleep pattern, my mom suggested that I come home from work and go straight to bed, so that I'm sleeping while Brian is working. Then when Brian comes home from work we can eat dinner together and spend a few hours of quality time together before it's time to go to work... and then I'll still get to keep my shift differential along with the other advantages that midnight shift offers. I know what my mom is suggesting makes sense, but part of me wonders what it would like to lead a completely "normal" life instead of trying to adapt my schedule to the rest of the world.

What do you think I should do?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Miss Grumpy Pants

Yep, that's me... Miss Grumpy Pants. I don't know what it is, but I have been SO grumpy for the past few days. I wish I knew what my problem was or how to fix it... I've been so miserable that I'm sure I'm a real BLAST to be around! I'm so miserable that I don't even want to be around myself... everyone and everything is getting on my last nerve... I'm even getting on my own nerves! What.The.Crap MAN?!

Although I know there's really no excuse, I have some ideas about part of what has been contributing to my evil disposition as of late... first, lack of sleep. I need sleep... ALOT of sleep! Nice, restful, uninterrupted sleep! And lately I have not been getting enough! Sleep + Nikki = BFF! I neeeeeeeeeeed you, BFF! LoL

Second, I have recently been working an ABUNDANCE of A1 (the Southern patrol channel at work... a.k.a. the busiest channel we have) and I have had ENOUGH! It's hard to believe that Southern was once my channel of choice... now, not so much! I'll be honest, I think it takes a special kind of person to work in the southern precinct and to be able to handle what they deal with on a day-to-day basis. But unfortunately, that special kind of person also tends to be demanding and impatient and sometimes quite snippy... usually (but not always) mixed with a little bit 'o JERK. That doesn't make for a good day when you're on my end of the radio. And for some reason, my shift is the only shift that assigns channels. The reason behind that is supposed to be fairness, but I don't necessarily agree with it... I mean, we're supposed to be adults... right? Why is it that we can make life or death decisions in the blink of an eye but we can't choose the channel we're going to work that night... come on, people, really?! I had to do some switches this past week, which meant I was repaying those switches on dayshift and evening shift. I thought I might be granted some reprieve while I was "visiting" on the other shifts, but BOY was I WRONG! You'll never guess what channel I had to work on both shifts...

Third, my allergies have been kicking my @$$ lately. My throat has been sore for a week and sometimes I sound like a man. (P.S. I don't like being called "Sir"!!!) I take an allergy pill every day, plus I take Benadryl on the days that I work, but I still feel like a hot steamy pile of crappola. And don't get me started on my asthma... I wish I had a nickel for every puff I've had of my inhaler!

So there it is folks... don't say I didn't warn you. For those of you who have no choice and HAVE to see or talk to me anytime in the near future, I apologize in advance. It's not you, it's me. I'm working hard to get myself out of this funk and quick!


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Turning 29...

Last Wednesday, I celebrated my 29th birthday... I honestly don't know how time is flying by SO fast - I swear it feels like I just graduated from high school, but June will mark 11 years that I've been in the "real world"! I just can't believe that this was my last birthday in my 20's and that next year I'll be 30 years old! My mother says that when I was a little girl, I used to think my birthday should be a national holiday... and long gone are the days when I would round up just to be able to consider myself a "half" age. I've found that the older I get, the less I look forward to birthdays... this year was no exception to that! But just because I don't look forward to them doesn't keep them from coming any faster...

Well, this birthday was a little different... thanks to my loved ones, this birthday was SO awesome that I'd even say it was my BEST birthday ever! It started as soon as I got home from work on Wednesday morning... Brian had told me to come straight home from work because I would have a surprise waiting for me. I couldn't imagine what my surprise would be, but I did as I was told. I pulled up in front of my house and didn't notice anything out of the ordinary... I walked inside and still didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. I started talking to my Grandma and she said "Why don't you go downstairs and let Myrtle come up to visit for awhile?" I thought that was a little 10-37, because Grandma doesn't usually worry about Myrtle one way or the other... but I walked downstairs to let her out anyway. When I opened the door into my living room, I saw a pretty pink box sitting on my coffee table and three Happy Birthday balloons floating above it... I giggled and realized that must be my surprise from Brian. I walked past it and started to walk into my bedroom, calling Myrtle's name as I walked. As I turned to walk through the doorway, Brian came walking out... I did what any normal person would do - I screamed! "AGH!!! What are you doing here?!" I asked, throwing my arms around him. He told me that he had taken the day off of work (something he NEVER, EVER does!) and that he had planned a trip to the Inner Harbor... we were going to go to The Aquarium and have lunch at The Cheesecake Factory. I was SO excited!

We ended up meeting my friend Sarah and her friend Brad at Cracker Barrel for breakfast to celebrate... then we went over to the new house to do a few things... then we came home to get ready for Baltimore. I hadn't been to The Aquarium since I was a little kid, probably in elementary school, so it was very nostalgic for me. Brian & I walked around for a few hours taking in all the sights... some of my favorites were the penguins, the sting rays, the sea turtles and the sharks! Since we'd had a late breakfast, we weren't really hungry to we decided to skip The Cheesecake Factory this time... we headed back to Harford County to visit with my Mom, Grandma & Hannah. My lack of sleep caught up to me and I fell asleep on the couch for about an hour and a half... us old people need our sleep, you know! =) Later that night, Brian & I went out to dinner at Don Pablos in White Marsh... in addition to our yummy dinners, we also had some queso blanco dip (my favorite!), some margaritas (extra lime & extra salt for me!) and some sopapillas for dessert. It was such a perfect day and I was so happy to be able to spend it with my honey!

The rest of my family had planned on celebrating my birthday on Sunday with a BBQ at my Mom & Grandma's house. Brian & I had invited our friend Jith to come too and my sister Kelly was there with my nieces, Hannah & Sara and my nephew, Khalid. My Mom rocked her awesome cooking skills and whipped up a mini-feast... we had filet mignon, mini crab cakes, garlic shrimp, BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp, green beans almondine, pasta salad, potato salad, stuffed tomatoes, bread & butter, iced tea, lemonade, sodas, etc. It was Mmm Mmm GOOD!!! We also had an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins... chocolate cake with chocolate chip ice cream... yum!!

After we stuffed our faces, it was present time! I got to open Brian's presents on my actual birthday... I got a new Fossil watch (with my favorite color on the face... PINK!), some bath salts from The Body Shop, and some pretty nail files/buffers. Grandma got me "The Next Grilleration G5" - an awesome George Foreman grill with 5 interchangeable plates... you can grill, griddle, bake, and make waffles! Mom got me a sterling silver necklace that you can put a picture in (sorta like a locket) that says "If daughters were flowers, I'd still pick you", a sterling silver bracelet that says "A daughter is a little girl who grows up to be a friend" and a card with $50 in it. My sister Kelly got me a wooden picture frame that says LOVE and has a recent picture of us in it, along with an old picture of us... she also made me this basket of flowers that hangs on your front door. It is SO pretty! My niece Hannah made me a very nice card and she also made me a pottery bowl in her art class... it's yellow with pink hearts around the top and a flower on the bottom of the bowl. (she got an A on the project...) My niece Sara also made me a very nice card and bought me a bag of gummie peaches... one of my favorites! =) Best of all, we got to spend several hours together listening to music, eating, laughing, and just enjoying each other's company... it was some good quality family time and I loved every minute of it!

As much as I'm not looking forward to my birthday next year, if it's anything like this one was then it might not be so bad! =)

Here's a link to some pictures from my celebration... thanks to everyone for making my day so special! =)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Just one of "those" days...

This week I had one of "those" days... you know, the kind where you wish you could just go back to bed and start all over again? If only it were that easy!

On Tuesday morning
(after a stressful night at work) my cellphone started acting up... note that this is my 2 month old Blackberry that is still TOO NEW to start giving me problems!!! It was working just fine until all of a sudden the screen froze up and it wouldn't let me do anything. After several unsuccessful attempts at rebooting the phone, I reluctantly went to sleep pretty frustrated... which meant I didn't sleep very well either. I woke up earlier than I had originally planned, just so I would have time to stop at the Verizon store on my way to the Citizens' Academy (which happened to be held at my own work that night). I waited forever-and-a-day for Technical Support to call my name, only to have them to inspect my phone and tell me that it wasn't something they would be able to fix and the phone would need to be swapped out. The good news is that I pay for insurance on the phone so it could be replaced... the bad news is they didn't have any of these phones in stock at their store, so they would need to order it and it would have to be shipped from the warehouse and delivered in *GASP* 2-3 business days! Ordinarily I could easily go without a phone for 2-3 days... I may not LIKE it, but I could do it. The difference this week was that the very next day was my birthday... so no cellphone meant no happy birthday phone calls and no happy birthday text messages... which would suck the "happy" right out of my birthday! I asked if there were any phones in stock at other stores in the area... I didn't mind driving if it meant I'd have a phone for my birthday! Just my luck, there were NONE of these phone at ANY Verizon store within a 60-mile radius! Sadly, I left the store without a phone... :(

When I got to work, I called my house to give them my work number... my Grandma had been planning on calling me bright and early to wish me a Happy Birthday (she wanted to be the first one!) and then I called Brian to vent to him. I may have been turning 29 the next day, but I'm still capable of being a big whiny baby sometimes and this was no exception! Needless to say, I was just so incredibly frustrated (and bummed) that I started crying. Brian did his best to console me... he told me that things would be ok and that I shouldn't cry. I wasn't interested in hearing any of his calming words... I wanted to continue my pity party (table of 1! LoL) so I was pretty quick to get off the phone. I sulked down the hall to my class and pouted some more... like for the next 3 hours! =)

My class normally goes until 10pm but this week we ended a little early, at about 9:40. My shift at work didn't start until 11pm so I had a little over an hour of time to kill and I still hadn't eaten, so I walked outside to my car to go find some grub. When I got out into the parking lot, I was just about to get in the car when I heard "Excuse me, Ma'am..." - I looked over and saw Brian standing next to his truck across the parking lot. "What are you doing here??" I asked him... he just smiled and said "Come here for a minute..." so I started to walk towards him. "Close your eyes, but keep walking... I'll tell you when to stop." he said. I wondered what was going on, but I followed his instructions. When I got over to the truck, he said "Now close your eyes and hold out your hands." I did as he asked, and the next thing I knew I was holding a brand new Blackberry in my hands.
This man... this WONDERFUL man... had driven from Columbia to Bel Air (that's about an hour ride) and bought me a NEW phone (at full price, I might add) and then drove to Forest Hill to hand deliver it to me, just so that I wouldn't have to go without a phone on my birthday! The phone can be returned, in original condition, within 30 days but you have to pay a 10% restocking fee. It's not the money that was such a big deal, it's the idea that someone would be willing to go COMPLETELY out of their way and do something so kind and so thoughtful for ME...

I don't know where Brian came from and I don't know why I was lucky enough to find him, but I do know that I'm holding on tight and never letting go... sometimes I feel like I don't deserve someone as good Brian but I appreciate him more than words could ever say. This isn't because he bought me a phone... it's because day-in and day-out, he treats me better than anyone ever has. He makes me feel like I'm the only girl in the world... he makes me feel beautiful and special and a million other things that I can't put into words.

BDM, I love you SO much!!!