It is an intense, life-saving job.
And with the unemployment rate dropping eight years in a row and counting – the nation's 911 call centers are struggling to stay fully staffed.
When Destiny Davidson became Cobb County's 911 Director in 2016, they were short 20 dispatchers. “It was looking a little dismal,” Davidson tells WSB Radio through laughter.
It is harder than ever, Davidson says, to lure and keep candidates considering the tight labor market.
“That is having an impact on not just on us, but across all fields of public safety,” Davidson explains.
Cobb's dispatchers handle nearly 33,000 emergency calls per month. Some candidates do well with the books, but struggle on the call floor. And the hours weigh on others.
“It’s a very high-stress job,” she says, adding, “A lot of multi-tasking; no one calls 911 when they’re having a good day.”
The 911 emergency operator's job is crucial. “They’re actually giving lifesaving emergency medical information over the phone to callers, which has been credited over and over as being the number one thing that kept that person alive until fire and EMS could get there and continue on with the proper equipment,” Davidson says.
She adds, “The first contact the operator has with a caller is usually under very stressful conditions.
“Sometimes there’s a lot of screaming, crying; sometimes there’s a lot of use of profanity and that sort of thing directed at the dispatcher.”
Davidson tells WSB Radio that the perfect dispatcher is kind-hearted and level-headed. “A lot of times the callers are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, and they take out their emotions on that dispatcher,” she explains.
Right now, entry-level pay for a Cobb 911 dispatcher is $35,500.
Davidson has lobbied the county to bump entry-level pay so that Cobb is on par with, or higher than, other counties in metro Atlanta.
Cobb has streamlined training – which is paid – added quiet rooms for dispatchers to decompress, and included bonuses and additional incentives to meet or beat nearby counties' salaries as they compete to recruit.
And, Davidson tells WSB, it is a good job for younger folks who are not going to college. “It starts out with decent pay and benefits,” she says, adding, “They’ve increased their targeting of local high schools.”
Today, Cobb County has openings for fourteen 911 dispatchers; seven of those are brand-new positions. People can learn more at www.JoinCobb911.com