Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Caught on Tape – MD 911 Dispatcher Snores Through Call

Is this primarily the fault of the dispatcher?

Or is this primarily the fault of a system that expects people to stay awake sitting by the phone for 24 hours?

Are there naps built into the day to minimize/prevent this?

A Montgomery County, MD 911 dispatcher who fell asleep and snored instead of sending an ambulance and providing pre-arrival instructions has been placed on administrative leave with pay.[1]

Authorities said he was 17 hours into a 24-hour overtime shift when the incident occurred.[1]

In the video that accompanies the article Jeffrey Buddle claims that 24 hour dispatching shifts are a good idea.

This has actually worked very well.[1]

This probably depends on your definition of very well.

Is this your definition of very well? –

We have been able to convince people that this kind of work schedule is sane up until now.

Jeffrey Buddle is the Vice President of the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association IAFF Local 1664, which represents firefighter dispatchers.

Buddle said while a 24-hour shift “may seem like a long shift to someone who’s not used to that schedule, it’s something that’s just normal for a firefighter to work.”[2]

This probably depends on your definition of normal.

Is this normal for a dispatcher?

Does it matter that he also works as a fire fighter?

Would it matter if he also worked as an air traffic controller?

The News4 I-Team found Montgomery County dispatchers work twice as long as other dispatchers in the D.C. area. In Fairfax County, dispatchers work 12.5-hour shifts. In Prince George’s County they work a 12-hour shift. The District has a 10-hour shift.[2]

In the region, apparently it is only normal for dispatchers in Montgomery County.

The cost of living in Montgomery County has led to a lot of emergency services workers living outside of the county, because the pay is so low.[3] The cost of living is high, but people working in other fields seem to be able to afford to live there. Paying a living wage to fire, police, and EMS might be asking them to cut into their lifestyle more than they would like.

Both he (Buddle) and Graham (Montgomery County Assistant Fire Chief Scott Graham) say this is the first time someone has fallen asleep during a 24-hour shift.[2]

Should we believe them?

They seem trustworthy. They have nothing to hide. So what if their story sounds too good to be true?


Picture credit.

Maybe this is just the first time that this has been reported to the media.

If the dispatcher had not been snoring, would anyone have reported this to the media as a sleeping dispatcher? It might be just a technical problem with the switching equipment. Or the call was switched to the wrong phone.

But with the snoring on the recording . . . ?

Dispatchers are sitting in chairs, answering phones for 24 hours, and we are supposed to believe that they are not falling asleep?

Just after midnight on April 4, a Montgomery County woman called 911 because her husband was having trouble breathing and was starting to turn blue.[2]

This happened at the beginning of April, but it takes until the end of May to be reported. Of course, we would know about any other episodes of overworked dispatchers falling asleep on the job. The union and the fire department are keeping the public well informed.

Assistant Fire Chief Scott Graham told reporters the patient was transported to a hospital and did not have any “adverse effects as a result of the call.”[1]

He was unresponsive and turning blue, so it is good to know that there do not appear to be any obvious negative effects of this delay.

It isn’t as if we didn’t have a bunch of cases of air traffic controllers falling asleep last year to highlight the problem of fatigue in this kind of job.[4]

According to one of the anonymous comments at STATter911, the dispatchers are allowed to try to sleep during a six hour period.

To clarify the way that 24 hour shift works. The dispatcher is only engaged in the dispatching/call taking activites for 16 of the 24 hours. They have 2 hours off the floor earlier in the shift (supposed to be time for PT) and then they get a 6 hour sleep period. One person sleeps from 1pm to 7pm. The remainder split the sleep periods with half sleping from 7pm to 1am and the other half sleeping from 1am to 7am. If the call load gets very busy they are pulled from their sleep but that doesn’t happen very often.[5]

I do not know how accurate that information is. This was an overtime 24 hour shift – after completing a 48 hour week (or is their work week longer?).

Footnotes:

[1] Caught on Tape: MD 911 Dispatcher Snores Through Call – The snoring dispatcher has been placed on administrative leave with pay.
EMSWorld.com News
Created: May 23, 2012
Article

[2] 911 Dispatcher Caught Snoring on the Job – Dispatcher on administrative leave
By Tisha Thompson and Rick Yarborough
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Updated 12:24 PM EDT
News4
Article

[3] Firefighters to Defer Cost-of-Living Raises
By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009
Article

[4] FAA says another air traffic controller fell asleep, plans to alter scheduling
By Ashley Halsey III
Published: April 16, 2011
Washington Post
Article

[5] Firefighter/dispatcher falls asleep during 911 call. TV station has audio from Montgomery County, Maryland
STATter911
Posted by dave statter
May 22, 2012
Comment

.

Comments

  1. Nice to see the IAFF taking such good care of the dispatchers.

    People expect their employer to push the limits of what the workers are capable of doing; but when the union, which is supposed to be supporting and protecting the employees, joins management in throwing the employees under the bus…

  2. With a median salary of $55k and a median home price of over $400k – in 2011 after a fall in home prices – it would be difficult to live in Montgomery County as a public servant of the county.

    I would have thought there would be rules based on downtime/call volume/etc. as to whether 24 hour overtime shifts would be allowed or not.

    • Anonymous,

      With a median salary of $55k and a median home price of over $400k – in 2011 after a fall in home prices – it would be difficult to live in Montgomery County as a public servant of the county.

      The starting pay may be much more important, when looking at the ability to hire people to work in an expensive area. Major corporations tend to give cost of living pay adjustments to people transferring to expensive areas. These adjustments would fade out over a few years.

      When I looked at MCFR, they were paying in the low $30,000 area, which with their antiquated protocols, rigid structure, and disregard for the law, made it very undesirable as a potential employer. I do not know how much may have changed in 5 years, but they are not currently hiring.

      I would have thought there would be rules based on downtime/call volume/etc. as to whether 24 hour overtime shifts would be allowed or not.

      I do not know what their rules are on any of that.

      There are many things that we can get away with and claim are normal, but once we get caught, it becomes harder to convince people that these oddities should be tolerated from any organization that makes any claim about being interested in safety..

      .

Trackbacks

  1. […] That is why this incident comes as no surprise. You cannot expect that an employee that is 18 hours into a 24 shift to be making the same quality decisions that he did when he was just coming on shift. The IAFF, as well as many firefighters, will vigorously oppose a change to this schedule, mostly because it will cut into the 4-5 days off per week that many firefighters enjoy. Employers will fight changes, because it would mean having to hire more personnel. […]

Speak Your Mind