KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They’re the people you rely on during some of the worst days of your life. 9-1-1 operators are often the first people you speak to during an emergency.
But they are in short supply around the metro --and there's a serious need to fill the vacancies.
“It`s extremely stressful, and there`s a thing, it`s unquantifiable, but there`s something inside a person that gives them the ability to be able to do this, because some of the things that we hear, that we have to deal with, and try to work our way through, you just have to have that special something,” said Gale Wash, a dispatcher.
Wash must have that special something. She's been a dispatcher in Johnson County for 14 years.
“This is so cliché, but the ability to be able to help people,” Wash added.
But Wash says it's not easy keeping people like her around. Dispatchers work odd hours, holidays, weekends... and answer hundreds of calls from distressed people every day.
“They`re the first link in the public safety chain so to speak,” said Eric Winebrenner, the Director Of Public Safety of the Mid America Regional Council, or MARC.
He says MARC coordinates with local agencies to help meet their needs. He says dispatchers must pass extensive background checks, and says the job isn't for everyone.
“It`s kind of a passion, more of a calling, than it is a typical job, so those are hard to fill,” added Winebrenner.
Ellen Wernicke, the Director of Johnson County Emergency Management and Communications, says this is a nationwide problem.
“It`s hard to find people that are A) qualified, and B) want to make that kind of commitment,” Wernicke explained.
She says there are six vacancies right now in Johnson County, which means a lot of overtime for current employees, and that can impact response times.
“It has to be done, the positions have to be filled, because someone needs to be here when people call,” Wash said.
“If it takes us longer to answer a call, or process a call because we don`t have enough people in the seats to do it, it`s going to take longer for people to get dispatched to calls,” said Wernicke.
If you're interested in more information about becoming a dispatcher, visit these links: