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A Toronto 911 dispatch centre.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Job: 911 operator

Salary: Starts at about $50,000 a year and can increase to just over $100,000, depending on experience and level of responsibility. For example, someone in a management job, such as operating a 911 call centre, would receive higher pay, according to Lois Karr, the officer in charge of the Operational Communications Centre of British Columbia.

Education: The majority of jobs in Canada are within the RCMP, which means the minimum requirement is a Grade 12 or equivalent education. As of April 1, 2014, operators must also take the RCMP Entrance Exam. Those who pass the test then receive paid on-the-job training for about six months, including a seven-week initiation program.

The role: They are the first people to answer the phone when someone places a 911 emergency call. Before directing the call to the appropriate emergency service – police, fire or ambulance – Ms. Karr said operators try to get two key pieces of information from the callers; location of the incident, and details about what's happening. For instance, operators want to find out whether there are weapons at the scene, or whether people are in a home or building that is on fire. The operator's job is also to try to keep the callers calm, especially those who are directly involved in the incident. Multitasking and critical thinking are also required skills on the job. "These skills are tested daily, and every call you get is different," Ms. Karr said.

By the numbers: There are 22 provincial and federal RCMP Operational Communications Centres (OCCs) and Administrative Communication Centres across Canada, according to the RCMP. There are also are 10 municipal and regional OCCs that provide law enforcement support services to the RCMP.

Job prospects: "When we say the RCMP is hiring, we're not kidding," Ms. Karr said. She says there are 911 operator jobs available at most of the call centres across Canada. As the population grows, especially in urban centres, so too does demand for emergency services. There is also a good career path for 911 operators. Ms. Karr started as a 911 operator 22 years ago and worked her way up through the ranks to her current management role.

Challenges: It can be a high-stress job and burnout can be a problem. Ms. Karr said there's a lot of shift work, including nights, weekends and holidays. Operators also have to focus on the call, and nothing else, which means setting aside any personal issues they may have at the time. "There's no thinking about anything else when that call comes in," she said. "You always have to have your game on."

Why they do it: Most people choose this career because they want to help people who are distressed, but aren't interested in being at the scene itself, working as a police officer or paramedic. "You need to like the fast pace," Ms. Karr said. There's a lot of adrenalin on the job, "but it's not like that every day."

Misconceptions: Most people think 911 operators work in the same buildings as other emergency personnel, such as police and fire fighters. Ms. Karr said that isn't the case in most cities across Canada. "It's a very educated, skilled answering service," she said.

Give us the scoop: Are you a 911 operator in Canada? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.

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