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911 call center said to be understaffed

October 03, 2002|by TARA REILLY

Washington County's 911 Communications Center has been understaffed for two years, creating workload problems for dispatchers and supervisors, Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth said Wednesday.

The ongoing staffing problems have been further complicated by an annual increase in the number of calls received during those two years, he said.

Kroboth said three dispatchers per eight-hour shift are on hand to answer emergency calls 24 hours a day every day.

The department has 24 full- and part-time dispatchers and a budget of about $1.1 million.

Two years ago, the department had four more dispatchers, Kroboth said.

It also has been short two supervisors for the past two years, he said. But on Tuesday, the Washington County Commissioners authorized Kroboth to fill one of the vacant supervisor positions.

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Kroboth said there was money in the department's budget to fund the post.

Last year, the center received nearly 70,000 calls, up from about 62,000 the previous year, he said.

He said the number of calls increases by about 13 percent a year.

"It's taking its toll on us," Kroboth told the commissioners Tuesday.

Kroboth said Wednesday if the dispatchers are answering telephone calls, emergency crews calling over the radio may not receive immediate service.

The four full-time dispatcher and two full-time supervisor jobs were eliminated about two years ago, when the county reorganized the emergency services department, Kroboth said.

He said he did not know why the positions were cut.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said he couldn't remember whether the positions were cut or just left unfilled. He said he wanted to double-check the number of positions the department is short.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the county changed the department's work schedule and decided not to fill the positions, which were left open by employees who retired or took other jobs.

He said the county was waiting for the reorganized department to make recommendations on what to do about the open positions.

Kroboth said he will ask the county to authorize the hiring of a secretary and an assistant chief in the next fiscal year.

Currently, he said the department's chief and deputy chief must share most of the administrative duties.

Some of those duties include monitoring how well dispatchers respond to calls, which is a time-consuming state mandate, and preparing 911 tapes for law enforcement or other officials who might need them for court, Kroboth said.

He said that within the next three to five years he might ask that another dispatcher be hired so four would work a shift.

Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz said he recently spent time at the 911 Center and was overwhelmed by the workload of the dispatchers.

"I can understand that it's very stressful," Swartz said. "Those calls are coming in left and right, and there's only three people there. I really respect what they do."

He said he wants the open positions filled.

"If we're worth our salt, we want to make sure our citizens are as safe as possible," Swartz said. "I think they will be filled. I think it's just a matter of time."

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