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Ohio County In Dire Need Of Dispatchers

WHEELING — Some recently retired or retiring first responders might soon get a call, as there is an immediate need to hire experienced dispatchers for the Ohio County 911 system, county commissioners learned this week.

Recent departures and expected retirements in the coming months have the department looking to fill slots, according to County Emergency Management Agency Director Lou Vargo.

It has reached the point where County 911 Director Theresa Russell “is taking a couple of the shifts,” he told commissioners.

Russell was out of the office on Friday after working a 12-hour dispatch shift on Thursday into Friday morning.

She said she is looking to hire at least one experienced dispatcher immediately if possible, and to begin recruiting and training others as there are some upcoming retirements expected in the department.

Pay is $13.50 an hour for full-time dispatchers, and $16.50 an hour for part-time workers who don’t receive benefits.

Presently there are 13 dispatchers who work at the 911 Center, and all shifts are covered, Russell said. But veteran dispatchers still are required to take 25 hours of additional training each year, and they don’t work their regular shift on these days.

Russell has been filling in for dispatchers at training this week.

“The job in itself is stressful,” she said. “But they (dispatchers) like the 12-hour shifts because after every 21 days they are off for a week.”

Russell said she wants to bring in people who already have experience, and she has been actively recruiting retired first-responders for jobs as dispatchers.

“The training is long and they have to be able to work with law enforcement and EMS and run a computerized system,” she said. “I would like someone who has an understanding of what a fast-paced environment is.

“I have talked to a lot of people I thought could do the job. But the problem I see is everybody is having problems recruiting anyone. People are collecting unemployment benefits and they just don’t want to work.”

Russell said tenured employees tend to remain with the department, but many new hires don’t make it through the initial training process.

“They don’t have a good grasp of what the position entails,” she explained. “They think they want to do the job because they’ve seen it on TV, but this is a much more fast-paced environment than what they see on television and a lot of responsibility comes with it.

“I love public safety and I loved being a dispatcher. It’s not boring, and it’s not a mundane job. But it’s not a job just anyone can do.”

Vargo described the work as “on the job training,” and not necessarily one where a college degree is needed.

“It probably takes three to four months of training and sitting there with the equipment until she feels comfortable letting them do it (dispatching),” he said. “We have to hire a couple of people to be trained. They just can’t come off the streets.”

Commission President Randy Wharton acknowledged being a dispatcher “is a difficult job.”

“There’s a high demand on them when an incident occurs, and they have a high level of training,” he said. “We have great people there who do a great job.

“But we’re looking to add new people, and recruiting is something we need to do. We are going to reach out to local fire and police departments to find some people who are ready to retire, but who still have some years left. That would be an ideal situation.”

Wharton suggested if a large enough pool of retiree recruits were assembled, job sharing could be possible and they could work shorter shifts.

“Job sharing is never a bad idea, especially in a high stress job,” he said. “This might help with recruitment, and maybe cut down on overtime pay.”

Those interested in applying for a dispatcher job should email their resumes to Russell at trussell@ohiocountywv.gov.

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