Rae-Lynne Dicks was one of the “forgotten” first responders.
A former 911 dispatcher in Vancouver for 10 years, she left the field permanently in 2004 following a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Part of that challenge was never showing weakness,” said Dicks. “You learn to stuff it all inside you.”
Ranging from talking someone down from a bridge to hearing them scream as they leap to their death, to the sound of a gunshot as someone takes their own life, over the course of a career, dispatchers will have experienced virtually every scenario over the phone.
“I was the hot seat and it didn’t matter where I sat,” said Dicks.
“My nickname was ‘s–t happens.'”
Unlike front-line first responders, dispatchers never have visuals, just sound.
Still, flashbacks and night terrors eventually took over.
A string of 911 scenarios would haunt her dreams, in which “my family members were the victims and perpetrators.”
Dicks’ marriage crumbled.
Her ex-husband didn’t understand her job, she said.
Although they couldn’t help but take their work home, Dicks and her colleagues deliberately avoided living and working in the same city.
“I don’t need to know that my neighbour’s beating his wife,” she said.
Even after intensive therapy, Dicks said she will “likely never recover” and is now a student earning her Masters degree in criminal justice.
She remains connected by helping run a Facebook forum, 911 Dispatchers: Breaking the Silence, aimed at North Americans.
“We are there if people want to vent privately or anonymously,” she said.
The group is growing by 1,000 people monthly, said Dicks.