Compound Trauma: The 911 on 911 Dispatcher Craig Tinneny
“When our phone rings, people aren’t calling to say, ‘Hi, how was your day?’ or ‘Happy Birthday.’ When the phone rings, there’s a problem.”
Craig Tinneny is a 911 dispatcher—the first step in any first responder efforts. He has answered calls for the last 10 years. The calls he fields can range from the unremarkable (a neighbor complaining about a loud dog, or a music next door) to the unimaginable (“I shot my husband”).
An estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the U.S. each year. According to Craig, “You see humanity on its worst day.” And those compounded experiences—call after call, day after day—build up. Emergency dispatchers can suffer from vicarious trauma, stress and PTSD.
According to Craig, the pace of calls for a dispatcher doesn’t allow time for reflection or self-care. “You don’t have time on a daily basis to stop and think about what you’re really hearing.”
The calls changed the way he saw himself and the way he saw his job. “I didn’t feel right—I felt hollow, a dark side of myself. Things I had enjoyed doing before weren’t cutting it, and work became a hassle. Every time the phone rang, instead of feeling challenged and wanting to help, I was grinding my teeth and resenting it.”
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For Craig, one particular call about an infant was the tipping point that sent him into a dark, dark period. He reached out for help from a support group of first responder peers who have traveled similar journeys. For Craig, that step was revelatory. He found comfort in knowing that he wasn’t alone, that his feelings were human, and that others had similar experiences. Through discussions with peers, Craig identified his needs, and made a plan for self-care that included time off and meetings with peers.
“We’re in the dark ages of mental health for first responders.”
Craig is now a self-described “crusader” to usher in better mental health for first responders. “It’s become a main mission of mine.” He volunteers to spend time with other first responders who may be in crisis, sharing his journey of darkness and light, in hopes of helping them find a path to better mental health.
Craig’s story is part of Beneath the Vest, a special first responder series created by OC87 Recovery Diaries that explores the mental health journeys of the men and women who have chosen a career to help others, and realize they need to help themselves along the way. We know you’ll enjoy hearing his story.