Training Program Description

Welcome! Thank you for your interest in becoming a classification 8238 Public Safety Communications Dispatcher at the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (SFDEM). We would like to provide you with an overview of our training program which comprises the first nine months of employment as a Dispatcher at SFDEM. During this nine month training period, trainees are on probation and are expected to attend classes, participate in observation and performance sessions, and take tests to evaluate their progress.  All trainees must complete the required learning modules and pass the examinations in order to complete probation and continue their employment with the Department.

The entire training program ranges between 31 and 37 weeks in duration and consists of two phases: classroom training and on-the-job training in call-taking and dispatching.  After one year of employment and successful completion of probation, trainees will be awarded a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Public Safety Basic Dispatch certificate.    

Classroom Training
The first phase of the training program is a 7-week POST academy dispatch course in call-taking and radio dispatching for Police, Fire, and Medical response in the City and County of San Francisco. This classroom-based learning is led by experienced dispatchers,  police officers, firefighters, and other subject matter experts in areas of study including Active Shooter Response, Hate Crimes, Suicide Prevention, and Weapons of Mass Destruction. On a weekly basis, trainees will be tested on what they have learned.  Trainees who fail a test will be offered remediation and a make-up exam that same week. At the end of the 7-week course, trainees will also take a cumulative final exam covering all course materials. Trainees who are unable to successfully complete the examination process may be separated.

Examples of the classroom training curriculum:

  • Memorization of over 100 radio codes by both number and definition.
  • Memorization of the phonetic alphabet which is used for officer identities on the radio, recitation of license plate numbers, and other miscellaneous descriptions.
  • Knowledge of San Francisco geography is critical. Trainees will be expected to learn the names and boundaries of every police district in the City, the main thoroughfares and direction they run, freeway on- and off-ramps, and patterns of traffic.
  • Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) and Emergency Fire Dispatch (EFD) classroom training.

On-the-Job Training (OJT)
The second phase of the training program is a two-part process of OJT. The first segment is call-taking,, and the second segment is police radio dispatching. Trainees must pass the first segment in order to qualify and participate in the second segment. During OJT, trainees are assigned to a Communications Training Officer (CTO) who will provide them with live training in call-taking and police radio dispatching. Trainees must complete 12 weeks of OJT for call-taking and 12 weeks of OJT for police radio dispatching. Each 12-week segment consists of three 4-week rotations. These rotations may be extended depending on the trainee’s performance. Altogether, OJT takes approximately 24-30 weeks.

Example Training Timeline (subject to variation)

Phase One: 7-week Post Basic Dispatch Academy

Phase Two: 24-30 weeks of OJT

  • Call-taking OJT (taking calls under supervision)
  • 1st Rotation (4 weeks) – Day watch (7 AM to 3 PM)
  • 2nd Rotation (4 weeks) – Swing watch (3 PM to 11 PM)
  • 3rd Rotation (4 weeks) – Midnight watch (11 PM to 7 AM)

--> up to 3 weeks of remedial training

* Solo call-taking and one-week refresher course*

  • Police dispatching OJT (dispatching police under supervision)
    • 1st Rotation (4 weeks) – Day watch (7 AM to 3 PM)
    • 2nd Rotation (4 weeks) – Swing watch (3 PM to 11 PM)
    • 3rd Rotation (4 weeks) – Midnight watch (11 PM to 7 AM)

--> up to 3 weeks of remedial training

*Monitoring for release to solo capacity*

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, they are expected to show consistent improvement throughout the training program and meet proficiency standards by the conclusion of each training segment. Trainees must be able to meet and maintain the minimum acceptable job standards by the end of each applicable OJT phase.

SFDEM’s Division of Emergency Communications (DEC) is a 24/7 operation including nights, weekends, and holidays. Work shifts are 8 or 10 hours in length and include a meal period. Before committing to the training program, candidates should be certain they are able and willing to work any shift. Once training is completed, work schedules and shifts are determined by seniority and change every six months. Depending on operational needs, employees work both voluntary and mandatory overtime hours. Trainees are also required to work weekends and holidays. All City employees are considered City Disaster Services Workers and are therefore expected to report and mobilize as necessary. Flexibility is necessary and required for all employees.

Job Requirements

A career as a Public Safety Communications Dispatcher can be challenging and highly stressful, but also extremely rewarding. During each shift, trainees talk and interact with the public, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS), alarm companies, and miscellaneous agencies. Trainees learn how to handle both emergency (i.e. heart attack, childbirth, shooting, domestic violence, medical triage) and non-emergency calls (i.e.  inquiries regarding noise curfews, where to find a towed vehicle, where to report lost property).

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 (fast typing speeds are preferred).  Trainees are required to work phone and radio channels each which present their own challenges. On the phones, trainees must process calls from individuals in various states of distress.  On the radio channel, trainees may receive simultaneous calls each with an urgent inquiry or request. Trainees are expected to handle all tasks professionally, promptly, and in the proper sequence of priority.

Work Environment
Trainees work in a large room with approximately 20-30 other dispatchers, 2-3 supervisors, and 1-2 shift managers. The ambient noise level can  sometimes be high especially during emergencies or times with heavy phone and radio traffic. Trainees must process and respond to callers with different accents, language skills, and stress levels. Depending on the quality of equipment used, this task can prove even more challenging (i.e. compromised phone lines, payphones, cell phones, and radio channels subject to static and interruption). It may take time to acquire what’s known as a “Dispatcher’s ear”–a sense of comfort and self-assurance that callers or field units have been heard and processed accurately.

Police Radio Channel
When working on the police radio channel, trainees are paired with a partner and assigned to the same City districts. The partners are assigned to different roles but work together. One is assigned to a “dispatch” role, and the other a “service” role. The dispatch position handles the actual dispatching of police, fire, and medical units to assigned runs in the district. The service position primarily handles incoming calls from field units requesting  assistance (i.e. running record checks on license plates and criminal histories). Teamwork is critical--partners must communicate with and support one another. 

Fire/EMS Radio Channel
Once trainees have passed probation and demonstrated the ability to successfully handle call-taking and the police radio channel, they will attend Fire/EMS Radio Channel Academy.  Trainees will learn the dispatching responsibilities of each position.

The Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system is unique to 9-1-1. Although the functionality of the software will be taught during training,  it is critical that trainees possess good typing skills and have a basic understanding of  Windows-based computer operating systems. 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 physically able to type and view multiple computer screens for 2-3 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 workstations 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 mobility (approximately eight feet from the workstation) since neither radio channels nor phone positions can be left unattended.

In order to be successful in this profession, trainees must have a true desire to help others. Since every individual handles stress differently, trainees are encouraged to give serious consideration to the demands of the position and the overall work environment. As a team, we make a genuine effort to alleviate stress in any way that we can. Our facility has an in-house gym open 24/7, a fully equipped kitchen with accompanying seating 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.