Shortage of 911 dispatchers causing overload in county
Amy Aaron said her work as a Leavenworth County dispatcher is stressful.
When a 911 call comes in about a house fire, she kicks into high gear as she begins to deal with the caller, the responding fire and police agencies and medical services if they are needed.
“I’m now talking to five agencies on my radio while I have a screaming homeowner in my ear,” she said during an interview this past week.
At those times, she said the last thing county dispatchers need to worry about is the large number of calls coming into their administrative line from people in the county asking for a permit to burn.
On Thursday, Dave Zoellner, Leavenworth County sheriff, and Wendy Dedeke, communication supervisor, told the Leavenworth County Commissioners there needed to be some major changes in the way burn permits were being handled in the county because the extra workload is burning out the dispatchers. Currently, the dispatchers handle emergency calls for the entire county except for the city of Leavenworth.
“I have to do what I have to do,” Zoellner told the commissioners. “When you have 11 people and half of them want to quit and they go home crying, I have to do something.”
Since 1998, the number of dispatchers for the county has remained the same, 10 dispatchers and one supervisor, while the county population and the number of emergency calls has continued to grow.
Along with the number of emergency calls, Zoellner said the number of calls for burn permits also is increasing. Dedeke said the overall call volume has increased 57 percent since 2001.
“And we still have the same amount of people,” Dedeke said.
Because of that, the sheriff’s office has stopped sending dispatchers to train on how to give medical instructions to callers. This means that a dispatcher could not tell a mother how to help her infant if it were choking.
“With two dispatchers, I cannot afford three minutes to tie up one dispatcher to give instructions to one person and allow all of the other traffic on that dispatcher on duty,” Dedeke said.
The commissioners said they understood the situation, but wanted the dispatchers to hold on for another month until they could come up with a solution.
Commissioner J.C. Tellefson suggested forming a committee to discuss possible options, which could include combining the dispatch staff from the city of Leavenworth with the county dispatchers.
Heather Morgan, county administrator, suggested she meet with Leavenworth’s city manager, police and fire chiefs as well as Zoellner to get the issue resolved.
The committee will bring back their recommendations by March 4.
In other business Thursday, commissioners:
• Heard quarterly reports for the county’s Juvenile Justice Authority and Council on Aging.
• Unanimously approved the appointment of Janice Langham to the Wyandotte/Leavenworth county advisory board for the council on aging.