Hillsborough County's 9-1-1 operations center is so short staffed, residents calling for service might find themselves waiting on the phone line if their case is not a major emergency.
"We try to put the non-emergencies on hold," said Julie Padron, a 9-1-1 operations supervisor. "A lot of people don't like that because they think they're being put on hold at the sheriff's office and they pay taxes for the sheriff's office."
Padron said her staffers work 12 hour shifts, but many have been doing more than one job to cover for the open positions. In some cases, operators are putting in overtime.
"Being short staffed means that your lines aren't being answered as promptly when you have an emergency," Padron said. "We're getting to them as fast as we can. But it doesn't always work out that way."
The communications center is short 24 positions, and so far only nine candidates are going through the training process. The sheriff needs 15 more people, and it's difficult to find qualified candidates because of the rigorous screening potential employees go through.
"They take two polygraphs," said Brad Herron, the communication center's director. Candidates must also pass a drug test and clear a criminal background check.
Herron said one of the reasons his department needs more employees is because of the demands of the cell phone era. 20-years ago a car accident at Dale Mabry and Waters would have generated only a handful of calls because people didn't have mobile devices, Herron said.
"Now at Dale Mabry and Waters 45 people drive by before the first emergency vehicle gets there, and we get a call from every one of them," said Herron.
Pay is based on education level and skills. Bi-lingual employees get a bonus. Salaries start around $28,000 to $31,000.
The job can be very demanding, and very rewarding, said 9-1-1 operator Amanda Calderon.
"I would say it's a high stress environment," Calderon said as she sat next to a row of empty dispatcher chairs in the communications center.
"Obviously we get so many calls throughout the day and with more people here we're able to get to those calls a lot quicker," Calderon said.
If you're interested in working for the sheriff's communications division, go to their webpage at www.hcso.tampa.fl.us. You can also call (813) 272-5625.