Tucson Fire fights staffing shortage at 911 center by recruiting, boosting morale
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – When seconds count, emergency response can mean the difference between life and death: It’s a challenging job to juggle all the 911 calls – along with a revolving door of employees.
That’s why the Tucson Fire Department is actively recruiting new dispatchers and operators while trying to retain the current ones by boosting morale.
Since its takeover last year, TFD has fixed all the major computer glitches that plagued the troubled center after a disastrous upgrade by the city. Asst. Chief Joe Gulotta also told 9 On Your Side they have made some crucial changes such as soliciting employee input and feedback as well as addressing workplace issues and providing a more comfortable environment for call center employees.
Gulotta said the center is understaffed; they need nine public safety dispatchers and one 911 operator.
Callers and dispatchers field over 100,000 calls a year. To work the center, they have to multitask, handle stress and enjoy helping people.
“[I like] making that connection with callers who are going through some tough stuff – that human connection,” said public safety dispatcher Mary Beaubien.
However, only half the recruits actually make it through the tough training – which takes roughly a month for operators and eight months for dispatchers. Because so much one-on-one training is involved, the center can only hire six people at a time – so as to not be too taxing on the current employees who must provide the training.
TFD also faces recruiting challenges given the state of the economy and budget cuts from the city. Since current employees haven’t had a raise in five years, raising starting wages would be especially difficult because it requires boosting the entire scale of salaries for everyone.
“We would like to be a little more competitive with our wages, but we’re working with that the city has and what the community is able to offer,” Gulotta said.
Starting wages are $12 per hour for operators and $15 per hour for dispatchers. To be a viable applicant, you have to be 18 years old with a high school diploma and pass a series of tests: dictation, typing, hearing and multitasking.
“It’s very challenging. It’s very different everyday but it’s very rewarding. You make connections with a lot of people and the public,” Beaubien said.