Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Emergency Dispatcher

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

occupation thesaurus, character creation, backstory, job

Occupation: Emergency Dispatcher

Overview: When someone calls 911 during an emergency situation, the first point of contact is the dispatcher. This person takes calls, gathers vital information, offers medical advice when necessary (such as how to perform CPR), passes the information along to the correct agencies (police, ambulances, fire department, etc.), and records the information into a database so it’s available to all parties. While the job requirements are fairly technical, this position requires a lot of finesse, since the dispatcher will need to remain calm and think clearly under high pressure, life-or-death circumstances. Turnover is high in this field due to the stressful nature of the job.

Necessary Training: Most dispatch positions require a high school diploma or GED. Required instruction includes on-the-job training as well as extensive classroom training that usually occurs during the dispatcher’s first year.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilitiesa knack for languages, basic first aid, enhanced hearing, exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, knowledge of explosives, multitasking, predicting the weather, reading people, typing quickly, working well under pressure, being able to communicate clearly, quick decision making

Helpful Character Traits: analytical, calm, centered, cooperative, courteous, decisive, discreet, efficient, empathetic, focused, kind, objective, organized, patient, perceptive, perfectionist, persuasive, proactive, professional, pushy, sensible, supportive, wise

Sources of Friction: becoming emotional about a case while one is trying to work it, taking out workplace stress on people at home, technical difficulties or machinery malfunctions, hysterical callers who can’t be reasoned with, making a mistake that results in someone’s death or injury, freezing up at a critical moment (not knowing what to say, drawing a blank when needing to give advice, etc.), taking a call as a new dispatcher that one isn’t qualified or trained to handle, receiving a call from someone one knows, taking a call about a large-scale emergency that affects one’s loved ones, someone needing help immediately but emergency services are delayed, witnessing a traumatic event on the call (a death, kidnapping, abuse, etc.), turning off one’s feelings at work and having difficulty turning them back on again after hours, budget cuts that make one’s job difficult (resulting in old or faulty equipment, insufficient emergency vehicles and responders, lack of training, etc.), one’s performance being questioned when a call goes bad, conflicts of interest (if a loved one is a first responder with a certain team, etc.), physical discomfort from sitting in a chair and working from a computer screen for long hours, increased worry or anxiety for loved ones due to the day-to-day traumas one deals with

People They Might Interact With: people in crisis, other dispatchers, supervisors

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Safety and Security: The situations a dispatcher encounters can become traumatizing over time. After prolonged exposure to crime, victimization, and violence, dispatchers may worry about the ability to protect their own loved ones or themselves from danger.
  • Love and Belonging: An emergency dispatcher has to be able to walk a fine line of being empathetic enough to help callers while not internalizing and dwelling on the situations they deal with. In some cases, dispatchers may turn off or minimize their emotions at work; if they’re unable to turn them back on after hours, it can cause strain with loved ones
  • Esteem and Recognition: The stakes don’t get higher than they do in this occupation. One mistake or memory lapse, or not knowing what to do in a given situation, can cost someone their life. If something does go south, it can cause a dispatcher to question their decisions and abilities, which may further impact their ability to function well at work.

Common Work-Related Settings: ambulance, car accident, emergency room, fire station, hospital room, house fire, police car, police station, prison cell

Twisting the Stereotype: There tend to be more female dispatchers, so consider this occupation for your male characters.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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7 Responses to Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Emergency Dispatcher

  1. Karla Diaz says:

    Are you planning on publishing an occupations thesaurus? When will you add it to One Stop? Can you do skydiver and hospice nurse?
    This thesaurus is a great addition to the family. Congratulations!

    • Hi, Karla! I’m so glad you’re enjoying this thesaurus. It’s too soon to tell if we’ll be publishing this one or not, since we’re still getting started. We’ll keep you posted! Typically, once a thesaurus finished at Writers Helping Writers, we then tidy it up and move it over to One Stop, so that will be awhile coming. And I will add your two requests to our master list of possibilities.

  2. Pingback: Writing Links 11/6/17 – Where Genres Collide

  3. dylan says:

    Could you do an entry on a CEO of a company? Mention the difference in what the CEO in small and big companies, plus national and international companies.

  4. A complex job! I admire those who can handle it.

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