Female dispatcher on a call

From EMT to Emergency Dispatcher: EMT Career Guide

How to Become an Emergency Dispatcher: Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Female dispatcher on a call

Before an EMT or a paramedic can respond to a scene, an important step must first take place: someone has to call in the emergency, and an Emergency Dispatcher must take that call.

Emergency Dispatchers play a vital role in the emergency response system. Their responsibility is to communicate with people (many of whom are often panicked or hysterical), to glean the necessary information and dispatch the appropriate first responders.

For EMTs and paramedics, a career as a dispatcher is an excellent alternative. Their experience in the field gives them an ideal perspective when receiving calls and relaying information. Also, their ability to react calmly and rationally during emergency situations is a key attribute of a successful dispatcher.

 (See our full list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics)                

Emergency Dispatcher Duties & Responsibilities

What Does an Emergency Dispatcher Do?

The primary job of an emergency dispatcher is “communications triage”—collecting facts from emergency reports, assessing the most important information, and relaying that information to EMTs, fire fighters, and/or police.

Common responsibilities for Emergency Dispatchers include:

  • Answering 9-1-1 calls and security alerts
  • Determining the appropriate response based on various types of emergencies
  • Relaying information to first responders
  • Coordinating first responder dispatches
  • Providing basic medical instructions over the phone
  • Monitoring and tracking the status of first responders
  • Keeping detailed records of phone calls
  • Coordinating responses across multiple departments and organizations

Emergency Dispatcher Job Description

What Is a Typical Day for an Emergency Dispatcher?

Dispatcher at work

Unlike EMTs and paramedics, emergency dispatchers spend most of their shift at a desk, surrounded by computer monitors while wearing a communications headset. Shifts begin and end at this desk (with appropriate break times in between) as all the tools for answering and responding to calls is right at their fingertips.

Dispatcher headquarters can vary from city to city. Some look like air traffic control centers—with screens and flashing lights. Others may look more like a generic office with cubicles. You can also find emergency dispatcher working in a police precinct, fire station, or hospital.

Because of the importance and urgency of their work, the work settings for dispatchers must remain clean, calm, and quiet at all times—the last thing dispatchers need is to be distracted by a mess or a loud conversation nearby.

Emergency Dispatcher Hours

Emergency dispatchers typically work 8- to 12-hour shifts. Because emergencies can happen at any time, communication centers must be staffed 24-hours a day. This means that some shifts may include overnight, weekend, or holiday hours.

Emergency Dispatcher Requirements

How to Become an Emergency Dispatcher

Another benefit to becoming an emergency dispatcher is the relatively short period of time required to become one. While exact requirements vary by region, most states simply require a high school diploma and the completion of a training course. Some states may also require a certification and typing examination.

Some states require their emergency dispatchers to pass the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) exam, which qualifies you to provide medical advice over the phone.

Emergency Dispatcher Might Be a Good Fit for You If…

  • You are calm under pressure
  • You can focus on multiple things at once
  • You have a thick skin (anxious or frightened callers can lash out verbally)
  • You can think quickly in high-pressure situations
  • You enjoy coordinating groups
  • You enjoy talking on the phone
  • You have an outgoing or conversational personality

Emergency Dispatcher Education

What Training Is Required to Become an Emergency Dispatcher?

A specialized degree is not required for EMTs or paramedics applying to become an Emergency Dispatcher. A high school diploma is required, and some states also require that dispatchers complete EMD certification.

Many states also require emergency dispatchers to receive a set amount of on-the-job training before answering calls on their own. This ensures that dispatchers are familiar with their job expectations and equipment before responding to live emergencies.

Some states may also require dispatchers to be certified in CPR.

How Long Does It Take to Be an Emergency Dispatcher?

States that require on-the-job training for future emergency dispatchers require, on average, 40 total hours of training. Some also require continuing education every two to three years. However, many states and municipalities have their own unique training requirements.

Emergency Dispatcher Certification

For states that require the Emergency Medical Dispatcher certification exam, applicants can register for the training course and exam at the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch website here.

Registration includes an 8-hour training course, training manual, and the EMD exam itself. Certification is valid for two years after passing the exam.

Emergency Dispatcher Required Skills

Besides the educational and certification requirements, emergency dispatchers should exhibit the following skills to achieve success:

  • Patience – One of the most important traits of an emergency dispatcher is the ability to remain calm when speaking with people who are frightened or upset.
  • Focus – Emergency dispatchers must be able to focus on multiple inputs at once, including their caller, emergency professionals, and procedures, often simultaneously.
  • Medical Knowledge – Knowledge of emergency medical techniques is essential to success, and emergency dispatchers must often walk callers through basic emergency medical procedures during the initial stages of an emergency.
  • Communication – Dispatchers must be able to quickly switch gears, based on their communications with callers, first responders, coordinators, and supervisors.
  • Organization – Dispatchers must be organized enough to prioritize their most critical (or time-sensitive) emergencies by collecting vital information as fast and as accurately as possible.

From EMT to Emergency Dispatcher

How Will My EMT Experience Help Me Become an Emergency Dispatcher?

Parked ambulances

Having EMT or paramedic experience can be an incredible asset for an emergency dispatcher. Knowledge of emergency medical procedures combined with field experience can be tremendously useful and advantageous to your career. Other benefits include:

  • Shift Experience – Dispatchers work similar shifts to EMTs and paramedics, including overnight and weekends.
  • Proof of Performance – EMTs and paramedics have proven experience in handling emergency situations.
  • Patient Care – Treating patients in the field as an EMT means better understanding how to communicate with patients over the phone as a dispatcher.
  • Communication – Emergency dispatchers with EMT experience will know how to communicate effectively, using varying levels of medical terminology, when interacting with patients versus doctors and other first responders.
  • Organizational Skills – EMTs and paramedics have experience collecting patient information and triaging during emergency situations.
  • Strong Stomach – EMTs and paramedics have proven experience in dealing with medical emergencies, and if they can handle injuries and illnesses in the field, they shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with them over the phone.

Emergency Dispatcher Salary

How Much Does an Emergency Dispatcher Make?

Emergency dispatchers can expect to earn an average of $43,290 per year (or $20.81 per hour) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, your experience, education, industry, and location can all affect your pay.

Highest Paid Industries for Emergency Dispatchers

Here is a list of occupational settings where emergency dispatchers can work, ranked in order of average salary:

Industry Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Scientific Research & Development Services $27.57 $57,340
Psychiatric & Substance Abuse Hospitals $25.24 $52,490
State government $23.39 $48,650
Local government $20.93 $43,540
Colleges & Universities $19.83 $41,250
Other Ambulatory Health Care Services $18.68 $38,660
Hospitals $18.59 $38,850

Location is another factor that may influence your emergency dispatcher salary.

Highest Paying States for Emergency Dispatchers

State Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
California $31.51 $65,530
Alaska $28.67 $59,640
Washington $27.62 $57,440
Minnesota $27.16 $56,490
Oregon $27.03 $56,220

Highest Paying Cities for Emergency Dispatchers

City Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
San Jose, CA $46.60 $96,930
San Francisco, CA $40.25 $83,720
Anchorage, AK $35.81 $74,490
Santa Cruz, CA $35.33 $73,480
Ventura, CA $33.94 $70,600
Santa Barbara, CA $32.87 $68,370
Fairfield, CA $31.57 $65,660
Stockton, CA $31.17 $64,830
Los Angeles, CA $31.04 $64,570
Medford, OR $30.60 $63,650

Beginning Your Career as an Emergency Dispatcher

Becoming an emergency dispatcher is a natural step for many EMTs and paramedics.

If you would like to gain real-world experience before taking the leap to Emergency Dispatcher, you can start by training for EMT certification.

Emergency medical services are an excellent way to test the waters before fully committing to a career in healthcare. Jobs for both Emergency Dispatchers and EMTs are in high demand, and employers are constantly looking for hard-working, smart, and dedicated employees for their teams. If this sounds like you, then now is an excellent time to start working towards your future career.