MFD Dispatchers Rarely Seen, Behind Closed Doors And Dispatching 28,000 Calls For Service A Year
Updated: Mar 7
Driving by the corner of Merrimack and Pine Streets in downtown Manchester, it is a common sight to see fire trucks entering and leaving the station - but less obvious is the often dimly lit dispatch center that serves as the main point of contact for fire and EMS emergencies throughout the city.
Calls to 911 for fire or medical emergencies in Manchester are connected to the dispatch that sits above the downtown headquarters of the Manchester Fire Department - a center that sees upwards of 28,000 calls for service a year. This is a stark contrast from just a few decades ago when only about 4,500 calls for service a year were handled.
Given the number of calls, dispatch is a job where no two days are alike. But, for seasoned Manchester Fire dispatchers like Phil Talbot, there are no longer any surprises.
“Just when you think you've heard it all there's always something else that comes along… [but] for 30 years I’ve been hearing it all,” Phil explains.
Phil Talbot dispatches thousands of emergency calls for Manchester Fire and AMR ambulance. He took the time to share some of his knowledge and stories with Manchester Information
Nearing his 30th year as a dispatcher for MFD, Phil is now less than 3 years from retirement. With 12, 24, and sometimes 36-hour shifts, some might think it to be grueling or unbearable, but to Phil - it’s just the nature of the work “I’ve been doing it my whole life…it’s second nature to me.”
Of course, coffee helps. Specifically, one pot per shift or about 1 cup every 2 hours - we did the math. The coffee he was drinking the day we interviewed him was in a cup with the Grinch featured on it. Phil indicated there may be some inherent personality of his that just might be similar to the fictional character.
Phil Talbot sitting in Manchester Fire Dispatch
Phil and the other dispatchers are responsible for getting the location and other vital information to EMTs, firefighters, and other rescue workers. When multiple calls are coming in, they must work quickly to determine the current location of ambulances and fire trucks and efficiently organize which vehicles will respond where.
Until the situation is known, all calls are treated with urgency. But, with all of Phil’s experience, he has become incredibly adept at discerning and prioritizing calls, because of “how fast things can go from 0 to 100.”
Phil recalls a past storm where, “all of a sudden, we got a gust of wind that hit 70 mph, trees knocked over. We logged in 35 calls in less than 10 minutes and it took about an hour to get everybody dispatched.”
Annually the phone rings over 150,000 times a year, sometimes with multiple calls coming in for the same incident. Many of the administrative calls for alarm systems, and other requests for service come to dispatchers in addition to emergency calls.
The Manchester Fire Dispatch team, commonly referred to as "Fire Alarm" are an integral part of handling fire and EMS emergencies.
During that hour, Phil and the other dispatchers worked to prioritize calls and coordinate how, when, and where each emergency vehicle would be moving.
Dispatchers, often being the first in contact with an emergency caller, also become incredibly adept at coping with some of the most horrific moments that occur within Manchester.
While Phil shared that it’s often hard to remember specific calls - both because there are so many and because it helps him deal with the nature of the job - some can’t help but stick with the dispatchers. A seriousness fell over the room as a gas explosion that killed two workers and left black smoke hanging over the city was remembered.
Some of the hardest calls are those where a child is involved, or when another first responder is in harm’s way. Fortunately, there are many calls that don’t involve live fires or life and death situations - calls for an elderly person who has fallen and needs help getting up, or for alarms that are mistakenly tripped at schools, apartment buildings, and warehouses.
After seeing and hearing all that dispatchers handle, it may come as a shock to learn that they are not officially categorized as first responders by the State of New Hampshire, despite the fact that dispatchers are the first to talk to a person experiencing an emergency, and are often the first to start administering aid, relief, and support through the information they share with a caller.
If one thing is clear from talking to Phil, it’s that there is seldom a dull moment. Indeed, “quiet” is a forbidden word in the dispatch room, lest any moment of relative calm be abruptly disrupted.
“Some of the stuff you hear in here…if you didn’t live it, you wouldn’t believe it.”
March 7, 2023 Update - MFD shares their Year End Snapshot of Fire Alarm, the Fire Department's dispatch center: