Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers

Summary

police fire and ambulance dispatchers image
Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers answer emergency and nonemergency calls.
Quick Facts: Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers
2020 Median Pay $qf_median_annual_wage_html $qf_median_hourly_wage_html
Typical Entry-Level Education $qf_education_html
Work Experience in a Related Occupation $qf_experience_html
On-the-job Training $qf_training_html
Number of Jobs, 2020 $qf_number_jobs_html
Job Outlook, 2020-30 $qf_outlook_html
Employment Change, 2020-30 $qf_openings_html

What Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers Do

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, also called public safety telecommunicators, answer emergency and nonemergency calls.

Work Environment

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers work in emergency communication centers called public safety answering points (PSAPs). Dispatchers must be available around the clock, so they often have to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. Overtime and long shifts—sometimes 12 hours—are common. The pressure to respond quickly and calmly in alarming situations can be stressful.

How to Become a Police, Fire, or Ambulance Dispatcher

Most police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers have a high school diploma. Many states require dispatchers to become certified.

Pay

Job Outlook

Overall employment of police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers is projected to grow $pc.toString().replaceAll("^\-","") percent from 2020 to 2030, $gra.

About $tools.number.format('#,###',$op) openings for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers Do

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers
Dispatchers monitor and track the status of police, fire, and ambulance units.

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, also called public safety telecommunicators, answer emergency and nonemergency calls.

Duties

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers typically do the following:

  • Answer 9-1-1 emergency telephone and alarm system calls
  • Determine the type of emergency and its location and decide the appropriate response on the basis of agency procedures
  • Relay information to the appropriate first-responder agency
  • Coordinate the dispatch of emergency response personnel to accident scenes
  • Give basic over-the-phone medical instructions before emergency personnel arrive
  • Monitor and track the status of police, fire, and ambulance units
  • Synchronize responses with other area communication centers
  • Keep detailed records of calls

Dispatchers answer calls from people who need help from police, firefighters, emergency services, or a combination of the three. They take emergency, nonemergency, and alarm system calls.

Dispatchers must stay calm while collecting vital information from callers to determine the severity of a situation and the location of those who need help. They then communicate this information to the appropriate first-responder agencies.

Dispatchers keep detailed records of the calls that they answer. They use computers to log important facts, such as the nature of the incident and the caller’s name and location. Most computer systems detect the location of cell phones and landline phones automatically.

Dispatchers often must instruct callers on what to do before responders arrive. Many dispatchers are trained to offer medical help over the phone. For example, they might help the caller provide first aid at the scene until emergency medical services arrive. At other times they may advise callers on how to remain safe while waiting for assistance.

Work Environment

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers
Dispatchers work in communication centers, often called public safety answering points (PSAPs).

Dispatchers typically work in communication centers, often called public safety answering points (PSAPs). Some dispatchers work for unified communication centers, where they answer calls for all types of emergency services, while others may work specifically for police or fire departments.

Work as a dispatcher can be stressful. Dispatchers often work long shifts, take many calls, and deal with troubling situations. Some calls require them to assist people who are in life-threatening situations, and the pressure to respond quickly and calmly can be demanding.

Work Schedules

Most dispatchers work 8- to 12-hour shifts, but some agencies require even longer ones. Overtime is common in this occupation.

Because emergencies can happen at any time, dispatchers are required to work some shifts during evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Police, Fire, or Ambulance Dispatcher

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers
Dispatchers must pass a typing test.

Most police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers have a high school diploma. Many states and localities require dispatchers to have training and certification.

In addition, candidates must pass a written exam and a typing test. In some instances, applicants may need to pass a background check, lie detector and drug tests, and tests for hearing and vision.

Some jobs require a driver’s license, and experience using computers and in customer service can be helpful. The ability to speak Spanish is also desirable in this occupation.

Education

Most dispatchers are required to have a high school diploma.

Training

Training requirements vary by state. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International) provides a list of states requiring training and certification.

Some states require 40 or more hours of initial training, and some require continuing education every 2 to 3 years. Other states do not mandate any specific training, leaving individual localities and agencies to structure their own requirements and conduct their own courses.

Some agencies have their own programs for certifying dispatchers; others use training from a professional association. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), and the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) have established a number of recommended standards and best practices that agencies often use as a guideline for their own training programs.

Training is usually conducted in a classroom and on the job, and may be followed by a probationary period of about 1 year. However, the period may vary by agency, as there is no national standard governing training or probation.

Training covers a wide variety of topics, such as local geography, agency protocols, and standard procedures. Dispatchers are also taught how to use specialized equipment, such as two-way radios and computer-aided dispatch software. Computer systems that dispatchers use consist of several monitors that display call information, maps, any relevant criminal history, and video, depending on the location of the incident. Dispatchers often receive specialized training to prepare for high-risk incidents, such as child abductions and suicidal callers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states require dispatchers to be certified. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) provides a list of states requiring training and certification. One certification is the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) certification, which enables dispatchers to give medical assistance over the phone.

Dispatchers may choose to pursue additional certifications, such as the National Emergency Number Association’s Emergency Number Professional (ENP) certification or APCO’s Registered Public-Safety Leader (RPL) certification, which demonstrate their leadership skills and knowledge of the profession.

Advancement

Training and additional certifications can help dispatchers become senior dispatchers or supervisors. Additional education and related work experience may be helpful in advancing to management-level positions.

Important Qualities

Ability to multitask. Dispatchers must stay calm in order to simultaneously answer calls, collect vital information, coordinate responders, use mapping software and camera feeds, and assist callers.

Communication skills. Dispatchers work with law enforcement, emergency response teams, and civilians. They must be able to communicate the nature of an emergency effectively and coordinate the appropriate response.

Decisionmaking skills. When people call for help, dispatchers must be able to quickly determine the response dictated by procedures.

Empathy. Dispatchers must be willing and able to help callers who have a wide range of needs. They must be calm, polite, and sympathetic, while also collecting relevant information quickly.

Listening skills. Dispatchers must listen carefully to collect relevant details, even though some callers might have trouble speaking because of anxiety or stress.

Typing skills. Dispatchers type the details of calls into computers, and speed and accuracy is of the essence when responding to emergencies.

Pay

Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers

Median annual wages, May 2020

Public safety telecommunicators

$43,290

Total, all occupations

$41,950

Material recording, scheduling, dispatching, and distributing workers

$41,160

 

Most dispatchers work 8- to 12-hour shifts, but some agencies require even longer ones. Overtime is common in this occupation.

Because emergencies can happen at any time, dispatchers are required to work some shifts during evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook

Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Public safety telecommunicators

8%

Total, all occupations

8%

Material recording, scheduling, dispatching, and distributing workers

-2%

 

Overall employment of police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers is projected to grow $pc.toString().replaceAll("^\-","") percent from 2020 to 2030, $gra.

About $tools.number.format('#,###',$op) openings for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Employment of police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Although state and local government budget constraints may limit the number of dispatchers hired in the coming decade, population growth and the commensurate increase in 9-1-1 call volume is expected to increase the employment of dispatchers.

Job Prospects

Overall job prospects should be favorable because the work of a dispatcher remains stressful and demanding, leading some applicants to seek other types of work.

The majority of job openings will come from the need to replace dispatchers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

Those who can handle demanding schedules and who have strong communication and typing skills should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Public safety telecommunicators

43-5031 95,400 103,200 8 7,800 Get data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

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Security guards and gaming surveillance officers Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

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Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/police-fire-and-ambulance-dispatchers.htm (visited June 13, 2024).

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 4, 2019