NEW CUMBERLAND - The Hancock County 911 Dispatch Center needs an overhaul, starting with the hiring and training procedures for part-time dispatchers, county commissioners learned on Thursday.
Part-time dispatchers have been resigning at a rate of about one every three months, sometimes more frequently, and that means "a reorganization is imperative," said Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county's Office Technology and Communications.
"Over the last 12 to 18 months, we've seen an inordinate amount of part-time dispatcher turnover," he said. Commissioners approved another resignation on Thursday.
Zielinsky believes the resignations are related to the high-stress nature of the job, unrealistic job expectations and other factors.
Commissioners authorized Zielinsky to move forward with a study of the situation, including, but not limited to: redefining job descriptions, assessing educational requirements, enhancing the screening process for new hires, improving quality standards, and updating training requirements for new technologies.
The 911 Center employs 12 full-time dispatchers and seven part-time dispatchers, who handle emergency calls for six volunteer fire departments, the Chester and Weirton police departments, the Weirton Fire Department and the Hancock County Sheriff's Department.
Dispatchers work 12-hour shifts, with full-time employees typically working three consecutive days and having two days off. Part-time employees fill in for open shifts. The center tries to keep staffing levels at three dispatchers per shift, Zielinsky said.
Every month, full-time dispatchers also get six days off in a row, which helps them "decompress" from a highly stressful job, Zielinsky said. "It gets very, very tense," he said.
Since 2008, the county has interviewed 55 candidates for part-time positions and hired 29 of them. "When you start looking at the cost that it takes to train these candidates and send them to Charleston for certification, it's a substantial amount of money," Zielinsky said. "I want to find out if we have the right procedures (for screening and training candidates). I would really like to look at all the elements that make up the center."
Oftentimes, candidates come into the job with unrealistic expectations, he said. "They think it's picking up a telephone and answering a telephone as you would in your home. ... It becomes very unnerving for them. You have no idea what you're going to get on the other end of the phone," he said.
Making Zielinsky's task more urgent is the fact that the 911 Center and the Office of Emergency Management, currently housed in the Hancock County courthouse, are planning to move to a new complex on state Route 2.
In a letter to commissioners, Zielinsky said the new center will have technology that is two or more generations ahead of the technology currently being used by the county. That will necessitate more training and a change of skills, he said.
Zielinsky said his review may result in a new 911 Center employee handbook, more rigorous screening procedures and the creation of a dedicated training position. He said he's also looking at counties whose screening process includes a psychological test.
Zielinsky plans to interview dispatchers, Center Director Tracy Lemley and quality assurance coordinator Lynn Delekta.