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Public Safety Spotlight: ‘The calm voice in the storm’

Photo: Miriam Harris/AFSCME
Public Safety Spotlight: ‘The calm voice in the storm’
By Pete Levine and Aaron Gallant ·
Tags: Our Stories
Public Safety Spotlight: ‘The calm voice in the storm’

A man faints. His wife calls 911. On the other end of the line, Chad Piazza, a 911 dispatcher for Snohomish County, Washington, takes the call.

From his dispatch center in Everett, Piazza runs through a checklist he’s been trained on, keeping the caller calm, asking her questions to help him determine which emergency services he’ll send.

Meanwhile, he learns the husband is unconscious and not breathing. Without Piazza’s help, he’ll die. No time to waste: Piazza tells the wife to perform CPR. Meanwhile, Piazza alerts the fire department to send medical help to the man.

“I was able to meet that gentleman a few months later after he was out of the hospital and very much alive,” said Piazza.

That experience — knowing he was able to change the outcome and save that man’s life — was “mind-blowing,” said Piazza, who has been a dispatcher for six years.

It’s an extraordinary job — every day, dispatchers field multiple calls from people who may be having the worst day of their life. It’s a profession whose rewards can be as weighty as its challenges. This week, during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, we honor professionals like Chad Piazza, who save countless lives.

Piazza and his fellow 911 dispatchers may be the first of the first responders, but the essential work they do is far too often unseen. And no matter how much training they have in what Piazza describes as “being that calm voice in the storm to get [callers] to the other side,” their work also takes a heavy toll.

“It’s a unique stress,” Piazza acknowledged.

It’s hard not to take work home with them. For Piazza, his long commute provides a respite.

“For me, some nights, I sit in the car and listen to music and kind of let everything fall off my shoulders,” he said. “Other nights, if we’ve had a particularly bad call, it’s a quiet ride home. For me, that’s what I like to do be able to not take work home. I take some time to decompress and take some breaths on the ride home, then appreciate the time I have with my family once I walk through that door.”

Piazza and his fellow 911 dispatchers in Snohomish County also sought ways to improve their jobs by affiliating with AFSCME Council 2.


Photo: Miriam Harris/ AFSCME

With their union voice, they fought for and won better pay — their most significant pay increase in their last three contracts. And they won a more flexible schedule — providing members more time with their families and a better work-life balance.

“Joining AFSCME has made everything more seamless,” Piazza said. “There’s better interactions with management and front-office staff, and it’s taken some of the pressure off some of our local board members to be able to interact on a more personal level with our peers and not have big walls between some of the obstacles we’re trying to overcome.”

Piazza added: “I do believe we have a stronger voice being a part of AFSCME. I feel it’s much easier to be heard, and I feel like we’re being listened to.”

Public safety professionals like Chad Piazza are increasingly turning to AFSCME to build power at work, and to advocate for safety on the job, better wages, good health care and a secure retirement. AFSCME members in corrections, law enforcement and emergency response defend our freedoms and those of the communities we serve.

Visit the AFSCME Public Safety website to get involved and learn more.

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