Type A personalities seem to dominate the personality types that populate 911 communications centers. Several theories exist as to why this is the case. The most popular is that the nature of the job attracts such personalities.

“This field attracts those types of people because it’s fast-paced and there’s a lot of variety,” said Chris Fischer, executive director of the North-East King County (Wash.) Regional Public Safety Communications Agency and the current president of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO). “Typically, they are assertive — almost aggressive — are independent thinkers and are good decision-makers, usually, because they’re not afraid to make a decision. All the traits we generally look for, Type A people have.”

Lisa Atkins, communications manager for the Irving (Texas) Police Department, agreed. “A lot of people like the adrenaline rush they get from working in such a fast-paced environment,” she said.

However, the notion of the 911 communications center as a place where frenzy is the order of the day generally is a myth, according to Eric Parry, police consultant for dispatching software vendor Priority Dispatch of Salt Lake City. The reality is that life in the typical is rather dull. “You have hours and hours and hours of routine boredom punctuated by minutes of panic when you do get the crazy call,” Parry said.

An environment in which there is considerable downtime actually works against the Type A person, Parry added. “You often have more stress-related problems in the communications centers that have the lower workloads,” he said. “Talk to the Type A call-takers and they will tell you that they love it when it’s busy. Idle hands have time to look around the room and find reasons to complain.”

Regardless of how the Type As got there, 911 communication center managers have to deal with them on a daily basis — and it’s no easy task. The consensus among those interviewed is that it is akin to walking a tightrope.

The positive aspects of the Type A personality in a 911 environment are undeniable, according to Wanda McCarley, oper-ations group manager for the Tarrant County 911 District in Fort Worth, Texas, and a past APCO president. “These are very driven people. … They’re very dedicated and very committed and take ownership of that job,” McCarley said. “They want to get their teeth into it and get a grip on it.”

Jaci Fox, operations and quality assurance coordinator for the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Regional 911 center, agreed. “Type A people are self-directed and make decisions quickly,” she said, adding that they are very results-oriented.

They’re also detail-oriented and competitive. Unfortunately for 911 center managers, the latter trait is a double-edged sword. On one hand, their intrinsic competitiveness leads Type As to strive constantly to be the best, whatever it takes. “No one likes to be on the team that pulls the lowest scores, but Type As are almost embarrassed about it,” Fox said. “No Type A wants to be unsuccessful.”

On the other hand, that competitive zeal can make Type As more difficult to manage, Atkins said. “They can get a little too full of themselves, a little too confident,” she said. “They all have an opinion, and they’re all going to say their opinion.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to Fischer. “You [want to] surround yourself with smart people who will tell it like it is,” she said. “I know who these people are in my organization, and if I really want the truth about something I’ll ask them, because they won’t mince any words. Everybody needs those folks in their organization to keep us on the right path.”

Friday: How to effectively deal with Type As.