911 Metro Dispatcher Shortage In Nashville

They’re the first to hear our panicked cries. Without them, no one will come to our rescue in an emergency, but as some dispatchers tell FOX 17 News, it’s time for them to be rescued, but no one’s listening.

“They see the firefighter. They see the police officer. They don’t see the dispatcher ever,” said a Metro Nashville dispatcher who doesn’t want to be identified. The dispatcher says Metro dispatchers are spread thin and are mentally, emotionally and physically warn out.

“You’re going to do the job, but you may not be as sharp to hear that thing that saves somebody’s life. You may not be as sharp as you need to be to hear those first three words and all they have are those first three words. You may not be as precise and on your toes as you should be because you’re tired,” said the dispatcher.

This dispatcher and the union representing them – the SEIU – say the call center is plagued with several issues like being short 41 positions.

Just like Metro Police and fire departments, dispatchers say they are understaffed, underpaid, overworked and often made to work mandatory overtime to cover shifts. They say the growing number of large scale events like the NFL draft and New Year’s Eve celebration are part of the issue.

”Really, the whole 911 operation in Nashville needs total revamping,” said retired Nashville Fire Chief Buck Dozier. He says we can’t continue to ignore the problem.

“The conditions are not anywhere near what they need to be,” Dozier said. “They need a new facility. Technology needs to be updated. More people are stressed out.”

Dispatchers say managers have ignored their complaints, however, department administrators say they recognize the strain, heard the concerns and are making significant changes to improve the environment and recruit.

A union rep tells me Mayor John Cooper promised to help, but they haven’t seen any change. His spokesman sent the following statement:

Our 911 dispatchers are incredibly hard-working and courageous individuals who perform life-saving work on behalf of Nashvillians who are in danger and distress. The Mayor’s Office is keenly aware of the unique resource needs at the Metro Nashville Emergency Communications Center. Mayor Cooper has met with representatives from SEIU Local 205, and staff from the Mayor’s Office has met with Metro Human Resources to better understand these challenges and the solutions required to address them. During his campaign, Mayor Cooper promised to fully staff the E-911 call center, which remains a priority for this administration.

So what can be done?

FOX 17 News’ Harriet Wallace reached out to the Metro Nashville Council Public Safety Committee. Chair Russ Pulley says they are trying to secure funding to increase dispatcher’s pay.

Good news for the dispatcher who spoke with FOX 17 News and says if nothing changes soon, they’ll be the next to walk out.

Wallace asked the Department of Emergency Communication to respond to concerns raised about department work conditions. Assistant director Michelle Peterson’s responses in full are below:

Mandatory Overtime – Overtime (scheduled, mandatory, and voluntary) is outlined in the Department of Emergency Communications (DEC) directives. The Director or designee may require mandatory overtime in times of dire need, such as when available manpower gets to a level in which the city is affected adversely. With the population growth of Nashville and the fact that our dispatchers provides a “Standard of Care” to callers over the phone such as giving CPR, delivering babies, giving safety instructions during building fires, and getting suspect/weapon information during police related incidents.

The call-takers are on the phone longer with the callers during their crisis to provide the necessary safety or medical instructions to improve the outcome of any life threatening situation. All of this takes place while the emergency responders are en-route to the scene . Providing a “Standard of Care” has a direct impact on the staffing needs of 911 centers.

Personnel Shortage – Emergency communications is a rewarding career but it has its challenges. One of the main challenge is the stress that is associated with this type of work which causes a continuous retention dilemma. Some of the changes and implementations that the DEC are making to address the personnel shortage is directly related to our recruitment processes. We will no longer be administering two separate entry level test to become a 911 dispatcher. The applicant will get two opportunities to pass the test during orientation presentation and the required six months wait time for those who fail the test has been waived. Additionally, our organization is reaching out to those who previously failed the test this past year to give them the opportunity to retake the CritiCall 911 test. The Emergency Communications District Board (ECD) has funded and approved the advertisement of a newly anticipated recruitment campaign. The DEC is reaching out to encourage experienced ex- employees to rejoin our team. Earlier this year, the pay structure was adjusted to reflect the salary increase and attract more applicants. These are just some of the upcoming changes that are being made to improve the personnel shortage and there are more systems improvements that will be made in the future.

Low Morale – The DEC’s management is doing whatever is necessary to improve the morale in the organization. This includes the executive management meeting with employees to discuss, resolve, and improve issues that are presented by the employees at the meetings. However, it is the stance of the DEC that every member of this organization is responsible for contributing positive energy into the workplace. This viewpoint applies from the top Director’s position to the newest employee who joins our team.

Underpaid/Overworked – The nature of our industry is emergency related, so there is a lot of work and stress associated with the 911 Emergency career. Many of us have done it for years because of our inner commitment to this community. However, I am going to refer you to HR or the Mayor’s office for any conversations of pay increases.

From www.fox17.com