Training Program Description

Welcome! We would like to provide you with an in-depth description of our training program and what trainees can expect to learn during their first nine months of employment as an 8238 Public Safety Communications Dispatcher at the Department of Emergency Management, Division of Emergency Communications (DEC). Staff trainees are on probation during this time and are expected to participate in a series of training, testing, performance, and observation sessions. In order to pass probation and continue employment with the Department, all trainees take part in learning exercises, pass exams, and evaluations.

The entire Training Program is approximately 34 weeks long.  After one year of employment and successful completion of probation, 8238's will be awarded a POST Public Safety Basic Dispatch certificate.   

Classroom Training
The 1st phase of the Training Program is an 8-10 week P.O.S.T. (Peace Officer Standards and Training) classroom and dispatch academy course in call taking and radio dispatching for Police, Fire, and Medical emergencies and non-emergencies. DEC staff, San Francisco police officers, San Francisco firefighters and experts will teach various public safety classes such as CPR, Suicide Prevention, and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Weekly written tests are administered on the materials taught the prior week. Trainees failing a weekly test will be offered remediation and a make-up exam that same week. Trainees unable to successfully complete the examination process may be separated.

Examples of the classroom training curriculum:

  • Over 100 radio codes must be memorized by number and definition.
  • The phonetic alphabet, which is used for all officer identities on the radio, recitation of license plate numbers, and other miscellaneous descriptions, must be memorized.
  • Location of an incident is always critical. Trainees will be expected to learn the names and boundaries of every police district in the city, the main thoroughfares and the directions they run, freeway on- and off-ramps, as well as patterns of traffic.
  • EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatch) and EFD (Emergency Fire Dispatch) classroom training.

On-the-Job Training (OJT)
The 2nd phase of the Training Program is a two-part process of On-the-Job Training (OJT): the 1st segment is call evaluation. The 2nd segment is radio dispatching. Trainees must pass the first segment in call evaluation in order to qualify and participate in radio OJT. During OJT, trainees are assigned to a Public Safety Communications Dispatcher who, in their capacity as Communications Training Officers (CTO), will provide live mode training in call taking and radio dispatching. The OJT phase can last for up to 12 weeks or longer each in both segments. Each segment, or phase, consists of three rotations, 4 weeks each rotation. A specific CTO from each shift is assigned to each trainee.

During OJT, the performance of all probationary trainees is rated daily. Rating standards are based on Standardized Evaluation Guidelines. Trainees are not expected to meet job standards as they begin OJT however are expected to show consistent improvement throughout the Training Program to a final conclusion of proficiency. Trainees must be able to meet and maintain the minimum acceptable job standards by the end of each applicable OJT phase.

The Department of Emergency Management's Operations Division, with the Division of Emergency Communications (DEC) is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week operation including nights, weekends, and holidays. Work shifts are 8 or 10 hours in length with a meal period. Before committing to the training program, trainees should be certain they are able to work any shift. Once training is completed, work schedules and shifts are determined by seniority, changing every six months. Overtime hours are worked by employees as both voluntary and mandatory according to fluctuating staffing needs. Trainees are required to work weekends and holidays. All trainees are required to respond report and mobilize as necessary. All City employees are considered a City Disaster Worker. Flexibility is necessary and required on the part of all employees.

Job Requirements
The job of a Public Safety Communications Dispatcher is challenging, rewarding, and highly stressful. Trainees in the rank of 8238 are required to work both the phone and radio channels. Each work day, trainees will be talking and interacting with the public, police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical services, alarm companies, and miscellaneous agencies. Trainees will learn to handle both emergency (such as heart attack, childbirth, shooting, domestic violence, and medical triage) and non-emergency calls (such as inquiries regarding noise curfews, where to find a towed vehicle, where to report lost property, etc.).

Trainees process a high volume of telephone calls per hour, sometimes speaking with callers who are anxious or uncooperative. Trainees also operate a complex two-way radio and dispatch calls for service.

Multi-functional dexterity and multi-tasking skills are critical for success. It is important to be able to talk and type at the same time (the quicker the typing, the better.) On the phones, a caller may be calm or may be screaming information or, on the radio channel, several officers may call simultaneously as the radio channel phone is ringing with an inquiry or urgent request. Operations Division trainees are expected to handle all tasks professionally, promptly and in the proper sequence of priority.

Work Environment
Trainees will be working in a large room with approximately 20-30 DEC line staff members, 2-3 supervisors, and 1-2 managers per shift. The ambient noise level is sometimes high during very busy phone and radio traffic, particularly during critical emergencies. Trainees listen to a wide variety of human voices, accents, and stress levels over varying qualities of equipment (phones, payphones, cell phones, radio channels, which may be accompanied by interruptions or static). It can take some time to reach a level of comfort and feel secure that callers or field units have been heard accurately - and time to acquire what is referred to as a "dispatcher's ear."

Police Radio Channel
When working on the police radio channel, trainees will be paired with a partner; and the two are then assigned particular districts of the city. Each partner is designated as "dispatch" or "service." The dispatch position handles the actual dispatching of police, fire, and medical units to assigned runs in the district. The service position primarily handles the incoming calls from units in the field requesting such things as running record checks on license plates and criminal histories. Teamwork is critical: the partners must keep one another appraised of continual updates. All Operations staff are required to assist each other.

Fire/EMS Radio Channel
Once trainees have passed probation and are have demonstrated the ability to successfully handle call evaluation and the police radio channel, they will attend Fire/EMS Radio Channel Academy.  Trainees will learn the dispatch responsibilities of each position.  The Hot Seat is the Fire Department dispatch position responsible for dispatching all code-3 medial calls and fire suppression calls.   The Hot Seat dispatcher works in partnership with the Fleet Seat dispatcher to assign appropriate medical apparatus to all medical related calls for service within the City and County of San Francisco.  The Fleet Seat position manages all available field resources in order to provide the most efficient delivery of medical services while maintaining the safety of emergency responders.  The three (3) control channel positions are responsible for fire and medical incidents in their assigned control area.

Equipment
The Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system is unique to 9-1-1. The software will be taught; however, it is critical that trainees possess good typing skills and a basic understanding of a Windows-based computer operating system. Trainees must be proficient in the functions of the computerized telephony system, including TTY equipment for the hearing-impaired. A digital mapping system is used. Trainees must be able physically to type and view multiple computer screens for 2 to 3 hours at a time. In general, and particularly during periods of high-volume phone and radio traffic, heavy typing, clicking of the mouse, reaching, and body turning is required. A variety of ergonomically designed chairs are available and all work stations are ergonomically designed with multiple adjustment functions for height, left versus right hand use of the mouse, and preference of standing or sitting. All positions require full-time use of a headset. Headset cords allow only limited movement ability (approximately eight feet) from the workstation since neither radio channels nor phone positions can be left unattended.

Summary
Trainees must have a true desire to help others in order to succeed in and enjoy this profession. Since every individual handles stress differently, trainees are encouraged to give serious consideration to the nature of the work and the work environment. As a team, we make a genuine effort to alleviate stress in any way we can. DEC has a 24-hour in-house gym, kitchen and eating areas, and ergonomically designed equipment. We advocate an open door policy to the supervisory, training, and administrative staff.

Trainees will find that input from employees is not only welcome but necessary as we work together to provide the critical link between emergency services and the residents and visitors of the City and County of San Francisco.