State wants to hire more 911 dispatchers: Operator shortage causes longer waits on calls for help

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MARYSVILLE, Wash. -- They are the first voices you hear when you call for help, but these days not enough 911 operators are on the job.

The state is now struggling to recruit more 911 dispatchers who deal with emergency services for citizens in need.

A shortage means longer waits when someone calls 911, with dispatchers taking calls in order of urgency.

“They are exhausted, absolutely exhausted,” WSP Communication Center Manager Andrea Marlow said of the current 911 dispatchers.

The call center in Marysville received 14,000 emergency calls last month and when you are working with a skeleton crew, that's overwhelming.

“We are having to do mandatory overtime,” Marlow said.

The shortage of dispatchers also means longer waits for citizens in need.

“It’s going to take them longer to answer the phones; it’s going to take longer for us to get to that crash site,” Trooper Mark Francis said.

The Washington State Patrol is aggressively trying to recruit qualified candidates to solve the problem.

“Unfortunately, there are going to be things that disqualify you permanently or disqualifying you for a year,” Francis said.

For example, use of certain drugs in the past can be a disqualifier.

“Before we were pretty strict (on past drug use), but we are looking at it on a case-by-case scenario, but not lowering our standards” Francis said.

Candidates also have to pass a thorough background check and a polygraph.

People who know the stresses admit it is not for everyone.

“An adrenaline junkie, people who love a challenge, people who love something different every single day, those are the people who do very well here,” Marlow said.

And most important -- people who can multitask and remain calm during life or death situations.

Dispatchers say the work is intense but it is also extremely gratifying when you can actually say you saved someone's life.

The Washington State Patrol says the current salary for dispatchers starts at $2,716 to $3,509 per month, and a benefit package provided includes paid holidays, health, dental, and life insurance, retirement, and an optional deferred compensation program. For additional information and to apply please go to:

http://www.wsp.wa.gov/employment/communications.htm