Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Dial 999 yourself officer"

No disrespect to Diary of a Police Dispatcher, but there are some times when dispatchers/radio operators can beggar belief. This incident, and the other one I'm going to tell you about, both happened on the same division, which is not the one I regularly work on, but over different periods.

The first one did, in fact, happen on the shit I was referring to in my "Why the f*** do I still do this job" post. I neglected to mention it because I was more frustrated and irritated by other elements of that shift. I've resignedly accepted what I'm writing about, although it's only happened twice so far, thus didn't think anything of it when authoring my previous post.

NB: Airwave radios that are personal issue have telephony, insofar as they can dial normal telephone numbers. The alternative to personal issue is pool issue, when radios are in for repair etc. The pool radios do not have telephony capabilities (probably because they can't be audited to each individual user).

On this shift, we ended up, during a rare spot of patrol, on the divisional border. In an industrial area my colleague and I could see that a skip was on fire. I changed my radio channel to the talkgroup that covers that division, and shouted up (on this shift I had a pool radio). I was initially told to wait as comms were busy, then they let me proceed. The conversation went like this:

"There's a skip on fire at xxxx Industries, on xxxxx Road. Could you please call the fire brigade out to this location?"
"Negative. We're far too busy. Can you please dial 999 yourself using your radio telephony?"
*A slight pause as I think "What the hell did you just say?"*
"Negative, I don't have telephony on my pool radio."

The answer to that, in as many rather curt words, was that would I mind dialling 999 on my mobile then or getting my colleague to do it on his personal issue radio, as they were just far too busy up there at the moment. Perhaps they'd like me to run up and down the street waving my arms wildly and shout "FIRE! FIRE!" instead?

My colleague was shocked as he'd never experienced this before, and ended up changing back to our normal channel to shout up a job on a different division, because the operators on the division that should have done it refused to.

It wouldn't be as bad if it was only a one-off. But it's happened before too!

Some months back I worked an operation that involved foot patrol on the same division this incident occurred on, as the operation was run over two divisions. It's good to have a change of scenery. We came across a male with breathing difficulties, so I shouted up comms and asked for an ambulance. Again, I was told that they were far too busy and would I mind contacting 999 some other way.

The end result of that one was, on a busy road during a busy time, motorists would have witnessed the sight of two officers in (relatively) expensive kit, in possession of the most advanced radio and communications technology for many years, doing exactly what the personal radio was meant to bring an end to - taking time out to contact another emergency service, time which could have been spent assisting with the said emergency. Having a personal mobile phone at all times is not optional, it's essential!

It probably isn't entirely the fault of the dispatchers, and it's entirely likely that they're that snowed under and subject to such infintessimal bureaucracy they don't even have a second to breathe. But patrol officers are reliant on radio operators for the performance of certain tasks when on the street. Operators are, in effect, the lifeline of the officer. So when you are told to dial 999 yourself not once, but twice, it does shake your faith in the support network that is supposed to help you.

Thus, the next time you see an officer on their mobile phone in the street, don't automatically think that they're unprofessional and making a social call. The sad truth is that there's a very real possibility they are calling out the ambulance or fire brigade to a job.

(c) Bow Street Runner. None of the material contained in this post, or this blog as a whole, may be reproduced without the express and written permission of Bow Street Runner. All rights reserved.
As a dispatcher in a relatively busy force and on a very busy radio channel I can't believe that you get told to call for an ambo/fire engine yourself!

The process probably takes a minute at the most and if the radio op can't spare a minute then something is seriously wrong somewhere, all we do is this;

1) Put a log on our command and control system with a few breif details (age / concious & breathing / nature of problem OR in the case of fire, whats on fire, anyone trapped, what type of vehicle they are trapped in etc) - 30seconds
2) Press button on our comms system labelled 'Fire Emerg' or 'Ambo Emerg' which is a direct line to them and answered almost instantly, then pass details - 40seconds max

Hardly a long time and at least the process is clearly recorded & auditable rather dialling of an officers personal mobile phone!!
I'm afraid i'd tell them to get their fingers out of their rear ends and do their job, take their name(s) and take it as far as I could and get them disciplined or sacked. That is outrageous. Hats off to our controllers, they are good.
dear sweet jebus .. that controller should be shot .
Pre-airwaves everyone used mobiles. The good thing about it was you could privately talk to someone without fear of sounding stupid on the main channel...but now we got point to point ...
Your control room sound like they need a bit of a shake up, I am a control op and I have in the past asked officers if they could use their phones to contact things like "recovery at rtc's" or "recovery for their own broken vehicles" cause granted sometimes the control room does get mega busy, and I would hate for a single crewed control op, to miss something vital cause the other op, who is normally listening, is on the phone to recovery monkeys (not all recovery agy's are monkeys, just some). It might be worth bringing it up with the force control room insp, a fire is as far as I can tell, an emergency! Hence, YOUR EMERGENCY CONTROL ROOMS area, they should of delt with that! Keep 80)ing
Something else I have just thought off.... If your going to report a gas leak, YOU ring Transco! Serious, Has anyone else ever spoken to them?? It normally goes something like this
"Hello, It's XXX police here, one of hour officers can smell gas at the end of XXX road"
TC "What is the post code"
CO " I don't know that I am sorry"
TC "what Road is it on"
CO "Nottingham Road"
TC "Its not on Ingham Road"
CO "No Its on Nottingham Road"
TC "DO you have the post code"
CO "No sorry I don't"
TC "What road is it"
CO "Nottingham Road, near to East Street"
TC East Street, What part of Nottingham is that"
CO "it's not NOttingham, It's NOttingham ROad near to East Street in XXX"
TC "what is the house number"
CO" Its at the juct of East Street, we don't know where it is coming from"
TC" Do you have a postcode for East Street"
TC"oh, Ok don't turn on any lights"
CO "If I did that I would not be able to see"
TC "But it is dangerous, can you open the windows"
CO" I can do, but it is frezzing and really doesn't help the gas leak on East Street"
TC "I thought it was on NOttingham Road"
CO "DOn't worry I will ring Fire service"


Honestly, Ring Transco next time you can, Not only will they do your head in, they will give you something to laugh about at 0043 on your next rest day.
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