Diane Billings: Emergency Fire Dispatcher Loves Going to Work at an ‘Awesome Job’
Married to a retired veteran fire lieutenant who was employed for 21 years with the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department, Diane Billings, 53, is no stranger to public safety. She has been employed for the past 17 years as an Emergency Dispatcher III and Fire Dispatch Supervisor for Public Safety Communications in Prince George’s County, Md. Prior to being hired for her full-time permanent position in 1995, she volunteered for four years as a dispatcher at the West Lanham Hill station. “Back then, it was hard to get hired,” Billings said.
She was placed on the radio and learned everything as she went along during her shift. “I stayed on the same shift. I volunteered and was trained on the job,” Billings said,
Billings liked the work and was quickly hooked on the job. “It was a whole different world from riding out in the field. The camaraderie of the people who worked up there was neat. It was really fun, exciting, and I knew a lot of the people out in the field,” Billings said. At that time, she was doing fire dispatch, and her position was under the fire department. In 1999, the dispatching function was removed from the fire department and placed under public safety communications. Billings is currently involved in fire/EMS dispatching. She is an Emergency Fire Dispatcher (EFD), and she works two 12-hour shifts and is off for four. “It’s like you get an adrenalin rush when there’s a working fire. It’s just exciting. It’s never the same. It’s always different,” Billings said.
Undoubtedly, she possesses a substantial amount of patience because she deals with a lot of different people—firefighters, volunteers, paramedics, and officers. Although she acknowledges everyone has their opinion of what communications should entail, she readily admits good people skills are vital. “Have to keep some reasoning in there,” Billings said.
Compassion and understanding are also important aspects involved in her job. “Try to put yourself in that situation. It could be a minor thing, but it’s very major to the person calling in,” Billings said.
The most stressful part of her job, she said, involves the change in technology–learning the new computer and radio system. “Now, everything is news. The most stress is just doing things right. If we make a mistake on the radio, it could affect the firefighters out in the field. It’s a team effort, and we all depend on each other,” Billings said.
What is her biggest fear? “The fear of not being good enough,” Billings replied. She believes dispatchers have to possess a work ethic and be devoted to their tasks. She recognizes the important of concentration combined with multi-tasking. “The ability to concentrate and pay attention to what you’re doing and the ability to prioritize and multi-task,” she said, is important. Ms. Billings codes all calls that come in, and she is constantly looking at the calls and listening to the radio. “At any given time, I could be doing three to four different things,” Billings said.
Billings clearly remembers the events of Sept. 11, 2001. “We were in a flight path. Everything was so chaotic. It wasn’t quite panic. Everyone was really scared. Our demeanor on the radio doesn’t show how chaotic it is in that room,” she said. In her words, recalling “the complete chaos,” she has noted changes that have occurred since then and include the increased acquisition of hazmat materials. “Since 9/11, we’ve gotten more proactive and ready to deal with things,” Billings said.
Billings has been married 30 years and has two children—a son, James, 26, and a daughter, Tara, 27. James is a career Lieutenant in the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, and Tara is a Registered Nurse at Southern Maryland Hospital. Her son also volunteers at the Prince Frederick Rescue Squad in Calvert County, Md., and her daughter volunteers at there as well. Both of her children have been riding rescue apparatus since they joined as cadet members at ages 10 and 11.
When Billings is not working, her hobbies include volunteering at the Prince Frederick Maryland Rescue Squad one to two days per week. She has been the chief officer and has volunteered there for the past 18 years. She travels to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, once per month. Billings is also in a firefighters’ motorcycle club, “The Red Knights,” and she rides a Harley. Her husband is president of the club, and they attend conferences in many localities where they both have an opportunity to meet people from diverse places. Billings also enjoys working puzzles, crocheting and reading.
Billings participates in “Boot Drives” twice a year. She assists in collecting money for social services and monetary donations to the Burn Center at Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia where many firefighters, who are impacted by serious and life-threatening burns, are treated.
Billings recently received two departmental letters of commendation for her performance on the job. Undeniably, she puts her heart and soul into her work. By her own admission, she has nothing to complain about. “I really love going to work. It’s an awesome job. I would have done it a lot earlier. I was 36 when I got hired,” Billings said. A genuine professional, Billings is obviously making a profound impact in that ‘awesome’ job of critical importance.
About the Author
Karen L. Bune serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and Marymount University in Arlington, Va., where she teaches victimology. Bune is a consultant for the Training and Technical Assistance Center for the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U. S. Department of Justice. She is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on victim issues. Bune is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence, and she is a Fellow of The Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the National Center for Crisis Management. She is a 2009 inductee in the Wakefield High School (Arlington, Va.) Hall of Fame. She received the “Chief’s Award 2009” from the Prince George’s County Maryland Police Chief. She received a 2011 Recognition of Service Certificate from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. She received a 2011 Official Citation from The Maryland General Assembly congratulating her for extraordinary public service on behalf of domestic violence victims in Prince George’s County and the cause of justice throughout Maryland. She received the 2011 American University Alumni Recognition Award. Bune appears in the 2012 editions of Marquis’ Who’s Who in the World, and Marquis’ Who’s Who of American Women.