South Carolina county deals with 911 operator shortage


    SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina county is struggling to find enough dispatchers to take 911 emergency calls.

    Spartanburg County Director of Communications Mike Flynn says he rarely has all the operators he needs, but the problem is especially acute these days with 12 jobs open.

    When the telephones get very busy and they’re ringing off the hook, that’s stressful in itself, just knowing there’s somebody on the other end of that line that needs your help but you’re so busy answering other calls and answering the radio that you can’t get to them quick enough. That’s just an awful feeling to hear that phone ringing,” Flynn told the Herald-Journal of Spartanburg .

    Floyd is currently asking full-time employees to work overtime and using firefighters and others to fill in part time.

    Answering 911 calls is demanding and takes three to five months of training. Less than a quarter of applicants pass the initial aptitude test and more get weeded out when they see what the job is about, Floyd said.

    “They would do well on the aptitude test, and we would bring them on board and they would see what it is they’re going to be doing, and it would frighten them so bad they would leave,” Floyd said.

    But Floyd says answering 911 calls is rewarding and employees know they make a difference.

    Dispatcher Justen Martin still remembers a call he got about two years into his career. The man reminded him of his grandfather. He was in trouble, but stayed warm and friendly. By the time paramedics arrived, the man had died. Martin was the last person he spoke to and that gave the dispatcher some comfort.

    “It’s just satisfying to know whether you helped out or that you could have been the difference in a call,” Martin said.

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