Every day, first responders put their own lives on the line to ensure our safety

April 27, 2022

- Joe Lieberman, United States senator 1989- 2013. Former nominee for Vice President of the United States in 2000.

According to CIPSRT (Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment) First Responders are:

“A person with specialized training who is among the first to arrive and provide assistance at the scene of an emergency... Historically, first responders have traditionally included paramedics, [emergency dispatchers] and medical technicians, police officers, firefighters, and rescuers.”

People don’t become a first responder for fame or fortune, they do so because they want to help…and they sacrifice a lot doing it. First Responders are driven, resilient, compassionate, professional, team players. The department is their extended family. They eat together, work together, train together, laugh together, sometimes cry together. It’s a job that’s stressful, exhilarating, tragic, rewarding, and unpredictable…never knowing what type of call is coming or when the pager or tones will go off.

But sadly the average career span of an EMT or paramedic is estimated at only 5 years, due mostly to burnout, mental stress, and the job’s physical toll. And according to the CDC, whilst the national average for suicide contemplation is about 3.7%, a 2015 survey of emergency personnel found their rate to be 37%.

Emergency Dispatch jobs are also incredibly intense and stressful. In the face of life’s most challenging circumstances, and with a calm voice, dispatchers triage emergency calls, decipher unclear information, offer life-saving instructions over the phone and dispatch responders to those having the worst day of their life. Those who quit dispatcher training cite being unable to handle the “rapid pace of the job and the responsibility of having someone’s lives in their hands.” Hours are long, overtime is mandatory. Dispatchers, like EMT, are needed 24/7, 365 days of the year. And dispatchers don’t generally find out the outcome of their calls. With no closure, they continue to pickup the phone and move to the next call.

Recently, Rave Mobile Safety issued a survey report on some of the increasing and diverse challenges Responders are now faced with. In a press release they stated that:

“Findings show respondents are experiencing increased challenges and workloads at their jobs and need better tools and resources to improve response efforts…. Without the necessary tools, resources and funding, responders will continue to face challenges with data sharing and real-time collaboration during an emergency.”

The report goes on to explain that improving resources, such as additional staffing and budget increases came top the list, followed by improving technology to enable more effective responses.

Better technology, Accurate location, Faster response

Shortening emergency response times by improving location accuracy of the 9-1-1 call has been a huge focal point for Emergency Services for several decades, it’s nothing new. The shift in dialing 9-1-1 from a landline to mobile device presents specific technology challenges around routing calls and locating callers. Having reliable and actionable location intelligence is still crucial:

With the gross majority of 9-1-1 calls now originating from a cellphone it is more important than ever to understand that, unlike a traditional landline which provides 9-1-1 call takers with your exact address, current cellphone and internet phone technology will not pinpoint your exact location. This is why it is so important when you call us to know what city you are in, the building addresses, cross streets, major landmarks, and any other information that will help us send first responders to you.”


Technology is a valuable resource that’s under utilized within Public Safety and emergency response. Surely it’s our responsibility to ensure one of toughest jobs is supported with the best technology tools.

Improving location information and providing a “door to knock on”, will alleviate, in part, some of the immense burden and stress Responders, Dispatchers, and Callers struggle with. Current location technologies don’t provide dispatchable address, only estimated search areas using crowdsourced data, or information like Height Above Ellipsoid or Height Above Terrain, data that’s less actionable, reliable and requires huge investment ($) in infrastructure.

Maybe the search area has reduced a little, but ultimately Responders still have to find emergency callers. If they dedicate too much time searching, that’s time taken away from helping the caller, and time is badly needed to enable better outcomes.

Such was the case on June 5th, 2020, when a 13-year-old girl called DC 9-1-1. Her mother Sheila Shepperd had gone into cardiac arrest. The young girl provided the correct address, yet the dispatcher unfortunately passed an incorrect location to Responders. It was well over 20 minutes before crews realized the error and arrived at the correct door. By then it was too late. Had additional and reliable location data been provided during the time of this emergency call it may have flagged the error earlier.

Council members interviewed after the tragedy stated:

“There are times when we do make a mistake. There are times when the caller provides a wrong address, and there are times when we give an address correctly and the responders interpret that address incorrectly,” said Holmes. “We depend on fast-thinking staff to stay on the line, and then correct and relay that information to folks on the ground. That is the reality of 9-1-1: you’re calling at your worst moment, and you might not be fully aware of where you are or what’s going on around you.”


Humans make mistakes and always will. To err is human. In times of stress and emotion, cognitive performance and critical thinking takes a nosedive. We become the victims of our own brain struggling with information overload, time pressure, complexity, and uncertainty. In reality this is where location technology can assist, support, and reduce the ever-increasing workload of these incredible people.

“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts.” - Nikki Giovanni

A final note on the topic, I asked Rick Galway, Past President of NENA the following question related to offering Responders better resources and support:

Q Do you think that we look after our Responders as well as we should? 

A “No. If you attend an annual NENA conference, you’ll find that the best attended break-out sessions are the ones concerning coping with stress relief and the inherent tension of call taking and dispatch. The session room is always jammed with VFRs and supervisory staffers sitting on the floors and in the aisles just to be brought up to date on current work. The stress and mental anguish of working in a PSAP are often minimized by senior personnel.”

First responders risk their lives to help others every day. Ensuring they have the right door to knock on, the dispatchable location, will support them in their extraordinary work.