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911 call centers experiencing shortage of operators, some offering higher salaries

Posted at 2:03 PM, Sep 25, 2018

Emergency call centers are experiencing a shortage in dispatch operators, so some are offering higher salaries to attract job seekers.

Carol Burgciaga-Kirchner has been on the dispatch floor, answering calls for only four months.

"I had my first CPR last week, and it was very nerve racking," says Burgciaga-Kirchner.

"We got trained how to do it, but I hadn't done it yet. But I was very nervous, making sure I was calm, keeping them calm, doing the steps until the responders arrived."  

The job of a 911 dispatcher is one very few people feel is their call of duty.   

"I never thought about it,” says Burgciaga-Kirchner. “It was never on my radar. But I'm here and I'm glad I am."  

Working 12 hour shifts and picking up plenty of overtime, Burgciaga-Kirchner is the linchpin in the emergency response system. How well she does often determines how quickly police, fire or even medical personnel responds to the scene.  

"Since I'm new to this, I don't have a lot of background in doing this,” she explains. “I get really anxious in doing certain calls when I see 911 drop in. I think, ‘Hopefully, this is not a big deal. I can do this.’"  

Some days her calls are pretty easy.

"People talking about parking complaints and have nothing to do with safety or being in danger of any sort."  

But other days, it's the difference between life or death.   

"Then, you have the calls that come in where babies aren't breathing; people finding their significant others passed away,” she recalls. “Sometimes, people will just have gotten robbed or shot or things like that."   

Before Burgciaga-Kirchner was allowed on the dispatch floor, she spent four weeks in training to ensure she could handle the stress.    

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a dispatcher is just over $36,000. However, in Jefferson County, Colorado, salaries start at $51,000 because the need is high. Additionally, you only need a high school diploma to apply.

"Some days I feel really fulfilled, like I really helped people sometimes in their worst situations,” Burgciaga-Kirchner says. “And some days, I feel like I didn't do enough because I didn't get extreme calls where I didn't have to do a whole lot for."  

Although the job is emotionally taxing at times, she says she’s happy to help make a difference in her community.