‘We are the first, first responders’: Growing need for 911 dispatchers

‘We are the first, first responders’: Growing need for 911 dispatchers

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Across the nation, there’s been a push to fill one of the most critical positions for emergency services - 911 dispatchers.

In Henrico, public safety personnel hope to attract as many candidates as possible for the upcoming dispatch academy.

“Optimal manning is 14 [on any shift],” communications supervisor Teri Wootton said. “So that includes calls takers, police and radio dispatchers, as well as our fire dispatchers and two supervisors.”

It’s in a large, dark room that these men and women have immersed themselves in the critical aspect of communication.

"We are the first, first responders," Wootton said.

Want to join our 'bunch'? Start your career as a 911 Dispatcher. One phone call could save someones life. Apply today at https://henrico.us/services/jobs/

Posted by Henrico County Police on Friday, July 12, 2019

While you may not be able to visibly see their impact when passing by an accident or crime scene, those emergency responders wouldn’t be at the location without the help from 911 dispatchers gathering information from you.

“It’s underestimated to how stressful the job is and how technical it is,” Wootton said.

Technical is right. They face a wall of technology throughout their workday.

“We work with five computer screens, three keyboards, three mice and we use them all simultaneously for every call that we take,” Wootton said.

But they also rely heavily on communication in order to relay information to first responders on scene.

"If we’re working a police call, we’re asking if there are weapons involved, is anyone intoxicated, give me a description, we’re staying on the line telling them what they can do to keep safe,” Wootton said.

Henrico County has been pushing heavily for new dispatch recruits using creative marketing on social media, channeling the popular 1970s show “The Brady Bunch” in one job advertisement.

They’re focused on filling upcoming dispatch academies for the remainder of the year.

The same goes for the city of Richmond, where its basic dispatch academy begins mid-September.

“The Communications Office position just closed online, and we are working diligently to fully staff out upcoming academy,” a spokesperson said. “The position will re-open in the near future, as we will continually hire until we are fully staffed.”

In Chesterfield, the dispatch center has eight vacant positions out of the County’s allotted 74 position for dispatch operations.

While these dispatchers do handle some emotionally draining calls, as seen in a Henrico Police Facebook post in November, there are some calls that leave them feeling rewarded at the end of the day.

“When they’ve giving CPR instructions to a frantic mother whose baby isn’t breathing and then that moment where you hear that baby cry… you know you’ve done something to help,” Wootton said.

Applicants need to be able to handle a large amount of stress and be able to multi-task.

Wootton added she’s seen gamers, waitresses, waiters and even day care workers succeed in this field of work.

Salaries vary depending on the jurisdiction, but in Henrico you can start off making $38,000.

Here are the following requirements for Henrico County:

  • Must be 18 years of age or older by date of hire
  • Must be a U.S. citizen by date of hire OR a lawful U.S. resident for the past 10 consecutive years prior to date of hire
  • Must posses a high school diploma or GED equivalent by date of hire
  • Must be able to pass computerized typing test, CritiCall
  • Must be able to work assigned shifts that may include days, evenings, midnights, weekends and holidays

For more information on how to apply in Henrico, click here. The County is accepting applications through Aug. 5.

Copyright 2019 WWBT. All rights reserved.