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W.Va. dispatcher shortage eases

January 31, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Two dispatchers hired at the end of last year are now on the job at the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, allowing 911 dispatchers who were filling in to refocus their energies on emergency calls.

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The Sheriff's Department dispatchers began work Sunday, said Chief Deputy John Vanorsdale.

"It's a relief to finally not have to finagle people around," he said. "I'm glad we got our own people back because (they) also have some other duties."

Mary Kackley, Berkeley County's director of 911 services, said she is happy, too.

"It did create a much heavier work load," she said. "My staff is greatly relieved."

Vacancies at the Sheriff's Department forced 911 operators to handle nonemergency calls to the Sheriff's Department between 4 p.m. and midnight Sunday through Wednesday in addition to their regular duties.

County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm-Hammond helped the Sheriff's Department and the 911 agency to reach a compromise in December when Sheriff Ronald E. Jones asked the 911 center to take over all of his department's nonemergency calls between 4 p.m. and midnight until new dispatchers could be hired.

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Kackley said she received the notice less than 24 hours before it was to take effect.

Vanorsdale said Monday the Sheriff's Department was able make the compromise work by rearranging schedules to cover the shift from Thursday to Saturday, normally the busiest period of the week.

One of the new dispatchers will work from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday. The other will work nights on Sunday and Monday and during the day Tuesday through Thursday, Vanorsdale said.

Both spent about a month in training, learning the police codes, communication systems, deputy patrol areas and other aspects of the job.

Vanorsdale said the job can be stressful.

"A lot of times on evening shift, you are by yourself," he said.

Two previous hires, in fact, quit before they completed their training.

"The longer you do it, the easier it gets," he said. "You just sort of get an ear for it."

Vanorsdale said the pay - the job starts at $6.35 an hour - and the extremely low unemployment rate have made it difficult to fill the vacancies.

"For the money we pay, it's hard to get a qualified person," he said. "They should make at least as much as the people at Central Dispatch make. We've lost people to Central Dispatch for that very reason."

Kackley said 911 operators have taken over calls for police agencies in past, but only for short periods of time.

The Sheriff's Department often cannot staff holiday shifts, for instance. A storm knocked out the communications system at the state police barracks in Martinsburg for several hours a few years ago, she said.

But this was the first time 911 dispatchers had to cover another agency's evening shift for an extended period, Kackley said.

"My staffing is limited, as well," she said. "But they handled it admirably without complaining."

The 911 center will still handle Sheriff's Department calls from midnight to 8 a.m. as it always has.

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