II. Starting Out


When someone comes to volunteer for the first time, he or she starts out as a dispatcher trainee. The role of the dispatcher is to receive the emergency information from a caller, relay it to the crew, and maintain communication with the crew during the call. In addition, each dispatcher is responsible for training dispatcher trainees in the "art" of dispatching.


All new members must be trained to become dispatchers, regardless of any special certifications (e.g., EMT, AFA) they may possess. This is to ensure that in the event a call comes in and there is no dispatcher on shift, any attendant, driver, etc., can stay in the office and dispatch while the rest of the crew responds to the emergency.

As a dispatcher trainee, you are asked to schedule two hours per week for training (at least one hour straight). During this time, you will discuss any questions you have with your dispatcher. Your dispatcher, in turn, will demonstrate the skills outlined in this manual and prepare you for quizzes. You will answer the phone and handle all real or training calls. The dispatcher is always in charge of the call, not the trainee. Especially in the case of an emergency, following the dispatcher's instructions could mean the difference between life and death.

Each trainee is required to have been evaluated on at least three emergency calls (real or training) in order to become a dispatcher. At the end of each call a quiz will be given to you. If the dispatcher on duty does not feel that you are ready to become a full dispatcher after three calls, you will have to take as many calls as necessary in order to be ready. If the dispatcher on duty does feel that you are ready to become a dispatcher, you must then pass the dispatcher test in order to officially become a dispatcher. If you fail to do even the minimum requirements, your membership in the squad will terminate at the end of the semester. The work we do is serious, and we need dedicated individuals.

If a trainee does not receive too many calls on his or her shift, training calls will be scheduled. These will be arranged by the dispatchers and should be given regularly if no true emergency calls are coming in. Trainees should treat training calls as they would treat real emergencies, since they will not know if the call was real or fake until after the entire "emergency" was over. You will be evaluated after each call (real or training) and judged on your ability to gather the information from the caller, relay the information to the crew and communicate with the crew over the radio during the call. You will also be evaluated on how confident you are during the call and how well you complete the paperwork that accompanies each call.


Please be on time for your shift. If you can't make your shift or if you'll be late, be sure to call in and leave a message (as early as possible so that a replacement can be found). Each time you come in for a shift; note how long you stayed in the trainee logbook. If you are missing many shifts, we may ask you to leave the squad.

When you come into the office, check the bulletin boards for messages or notices. You must attend general membership meetings as well as meetings for trainees or dispatchers.

When You're Proofed

Once you have passed all the written and practical exams and received the recommendation of your dispatcher, you will be certified. With your new status as dispatcher come several rewards. First of all, you will receive your very own one-of-a-kind squad number (from the personnel officer). Once you have that, you will also get a squad ID card, on which you can list your status and any certifications you may have (again, this is available through the personnel officer). New dispatchers also receive stylish uniform shirts with their name, which they wear for all of their shifts. Finally, as a dispatcher, you will need to pick four hours for your new shift.

Dispatcher's Domain

The dispatcher's desk and its immediate area is the dispatcher's domain. The dispatcher signed on is responsible for maintaining the area's order and cleanliness. "Order" includes not only the neatness of the room, but also quiet. Remember, as a dispatcher you are in charge here. Only three people should be in this area: the dispatcher and two trainees. (No more than two dispatcher trainees may sign in at the same time and no trainee may sign in without a dispatcher on shift or in the room.) If a crowd is forming, ask/tell the people in the room to quiet down. Don't hesitate to ask nonmembers or anyone becoming a nuisance to leave,-especially during a call. During a call, no one should be in this area except the dispatcher and trainees. Always keep the door closed during a call.

In order to be perceived as professional, you have to look the part. All dispatchers must wear their uniform shirts on shift. When a dispatcher or trainee is on shift and finds that he or she has nothing to do, there are always chores to be done (e.g., sweeping the dispatching office, dusting the desk, emptying the garbage pails). You may do your homework at the desk, but please leave your coats and bags in another area. You may not eat at the dispatching desk. When you are on shift, you should be sitting at the desk (not in the back of the room with your friends). If there are two trainees on shift at the same time, they should alternate weeks for sitting by the phone.

When the phone rings, turn off the television or lower the volume. As soon as the dispatcher picks up the phone, there should be absolute quiet in this room. Remember, if it is an emergency, the dispatcher has to be able to hear the caller's information. No iPods are permitted when you are on shift.

The dispatcher's desk itself should be kept neat. There should be no clutter. The only things that should be on the desk are the log sheets/clipboard, logbook and scrap paper. Under the plastic cover, you will find various sheets of paper that have such information as:

  • A list of hospitals in the area and their emergency and non-emergency phone numbers
  • The phone numbers for MARS (where you get hospital statuses), poison control, the police department and other volunteer ambulance organizations
  • A list of the 10 codes
  • Instructions on how to check voice-mail
  • A list of the members of the board of directors and their beeper, or cell or home phone numbers (for your reference only; do not give these numbers out over the phone)
  • Other various useful information