Causal Fridays

I have a friend who works for E-Comm. E-Comm does 9-1-1 dispatching for the Greater Vancouver Regional District. She recommended to me that I apply as an auxiliary for the night shift – apparently it’s not that busy and one could get a lot of, say, drawing done in between calls. Now make no mistake, I am a stress bypassing specialist. I am not really keen on people depending on me for their lives and wellbeing. But the last time I applied for what I thought would be a sucky corporate job turned out to be pretty sweet (answering phones at the Royal Bank) so I went to their informational session and screening test on Saturday afternoon.

There were fifteen other applicants, none of whom looked even remotely interesting enough to talk to. That may have been the result of being asked to dress “business casual” (thanks to Best for helping me dress appropriately) but apart from that they all seemed humourless. In any case where humour was attempted, it failed, such as the remark by a woman who was taking one of the gratis snack items: “I better be careful or I’ll be as big as a house. Hahaha.” Droll, indeed. The management, on the other hand, had that “yes we’re a soulless corporation but we have fun, and we’ll prove it with this slideshow of our themed Christmas party and pancake breakfast” vibe. Oh cheers and hurrahs, what corporate-sanctioned merriment and hoopla we shall have! I’ll bring my “NO IRONY ZONE” placard to the Hallowe’en party, shall I?

I digress. So for the first hour we were given an overview of the company via Powerpoint presentation. The most interesting thing you need to know is that the company was formed after the 1994 Stanley Cup riots here in town. At the time the fire department and the police and the emergency response personnel could not communicate with one another because they were all on different radio systems. Because of that fiasco some act was passed and they all got on the same system, which is owned/maintained by E-Comm. So E-Comm not only takes 9-1-1 calls and directs them to the appropriate response teams, but they also communicate information to cops etc. As a result, part of being an employee there is submitting to an RCMP Reliability Status screening which is a 3-6 month (minimum) probing into your life over the past 5-10 years. Now I’m sure that if I were to submit to the investigation, I would pass. I haven’t smoked pot since 1990 and I have never been arrested, etcetera etcetera. However, I think that such a screening process is a little Orwellian for my liking.

The second part of the afternoon was a computer skills test. They put everyone on a computer which tested your typing accuracy, memory, listening and navigation skills. Through the entire 90 minute test every once in a while a RED ALERT! box would pop up on your screen and a situation would appear in the box, such as “a group of teens are dropping rocks off of an overpass” and you have to click on which response team to direct the emergency to – Police, Fire, EMT or utility. That was kind of fun and I think I was in the top three (at least in terms of speed of finishing the test)

After that we were split into groups for a general skills test. This one was exactly like those standardized tests from high school – filling in one of the A, B, C, D, E circles with your pencil. From that I learned that my math skills are in desperate need of polishing. The other parts were word meanings (aced that, natch) and memory (I think I did okay).

Then I waited for my personal interview in a big foyer accentuated by life-size cardboard cutouts of jovial looking people holding signs that read ACCOUNTABILITY and RESPECT. By this time I knew that a long-term position there would kill me, but really I knew that coming in, and throughout the process I was trying to rationalize a few things:

-Taking this job even for a little while might be good experience for me as a writer and just for interest’s sake.
-The six weeks training is paid for.
-The money is really good.
-Medical, dental, life insurance benefits.
-There’s an auxiliary position where you don’t have to commit to their 12 hour shifts.

So my cunning plan was to agree to the position and go through all the training, but quit before anyone’s life actually depended on me. Exceptionally cunning, no? But also predicated on a big fat lie and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to look anyone in the eye throughout the entire time. In fact throughout the afternoon I was compelled to just abandon the tests because I had other things that needed doing that day, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to follow through on the job, but I forced myself to commit to the session. Even the info session/screening was part of my “do it just for the experience of doing it” mandate – at least it will make an interesting blog entry (right?).

When I finally went in for my interview with the human resources department, I was relieved to find a real human being. She wasn’t at all fake, and I think if everyone involved was like her my impression of the ordeal and the job would have been markedly more positive. She talked to me honestly about the RCMP Reliability screening, the inflexibility of the scheduling, and the stress of the job. I didn’t make any promises or commitments but I asked a lot of questions about the job and told her I’d think about it as I dropped my visitor pass tag into the bin next to the exit and left the 70,000 square foot, reinforced concrete post-disaster facility forever.

4 Replies to “Causal Fridays”

  1. That job sounds terrible. Except for that pancake breakfast. That must be all kinds of khaki-colored awesome.

    My soulless corporation is laying people off today. I feel sick.

  2. If you got that job I would just keep calling 911 and telling them they have a terrorist in their call centre and identifying you by name. Then I’d ask what you were wearing.

  3. Hi, Toren.

    I know the job sounds dreary, but I was a police dispatcher for about eight years total, for three separate agencies here in the US – Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept, Sacramento Police Dept., and the Oakland Police Dept.

    And yes…your experiences as a dispatcher can be beneficial in a variety of ways.

    For me, who was clueless on reading a map, I am now excellent not only with my map reading skills, but also my sense of direction. From going out on ride-a-longs with the patrol units, I’ve also learned to keep track of where I am when I drive (intersections)…just in case something happens.

    Learning to keep your cool during an emergency (I’ve dispatched through hour long pursuits, talked to many suicidal callers over the phone, helped talk a dad with delivering his wife’s first born child over the phone, calmed down a juvenile kidnap victim into helping us give location details so that patrol units could rescue her, and talked to several people in hostage situations (with shots being fired in the background as we spoke)…are just some of the highlights.

    Learning to prioritize emergencies. Oddly enough, this skill really came in handy once I left dispatching, and entered the fun filled world of being an administrative assistant/secretary/marketing coordinator/web editor. A boss fuming over a late letter pales in comparison to someone who has just opened her front door and shot three times in the chest by a punk who got the wrong house to get revenge on a “dis.” (Turned out the punk was dyslexic, and had transposed the house address.)

    Plus…the added benefits of self-esteem, and those other benefits you already mentioned: Medical, dental, life insurance benefits. You’re a young man now, but those puppies will come in VERY handy as you have another birthday. (And 30 more.)

    Plus — you can always quit if you REALLY don’t like the job.

    I left because of family concerns that escalated and didn’t work well with the inflexible scheduling (that’s a given for any agency).

    Best wishes on all your endeavors, Toren.


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