Summit County faces shortage of dispatchers, reports exceeding overtime budget by 400 percent

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PARK CITY (ABC4 News) – They are the voice you hear in your most urgent calls, trained to handle your emergencies. But the Summit County dispatchers are struggling to keep up, working up to 60 hours a week in an effort to make up for a shortage.

Tanya Odenbach, the Communication Supervisor for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said there are currently 13 dispatchers, but they would need 20 to operate at full capacity. In her 13-year tenure, she said they’ve only been fully staffed once.

“Right now, almost every one of our dispatchers is doing a lot of overtime. We are limited on how much overtime we can take and we are trying to watch for burnout,” said Odenbach.

Like law enforcement and first responders, dispatchers don’t get a day off. 
“You’re working 24/7. We are here nights, weekends, holidays. We’re missing out on family events and everything,” she said.

Odenbach said her department is 400 percent over their overtime budget and employee retention is difficult because the job can be stressful, demanding, and traumatic.

“The hardest calls are the ones involving children,” said Chandra Crosby, dispatcher at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “That’s probably one of the most difficult parts of being a dispatcher is you wish you were there. You sometimes wish you could hop in your car and head over to the call you’re taking.”

County insurance covers some mental health treatment for dispatchers and a critical care stress management team is available for support. But Crosby said it still take a special kind of person to make it through this line of work.

“You have to be compassionate for people and what they’re going through. You also have to be pretty thick-skinned. You have to be able to handle those moments and understand that you’re not going to get closure all the time when you are on the phone.”

Training for new dispatchers takes about six months, but Odenbach said it takes about a year before they’re fully comfortable on the phone. Despite the tough responsibilities, the pay for dispatchers is comparable to some entry-level jobs.

“It’s never been much of a career choice. For officers, I know they look forward to being one from when they were young. But for dispatch, a lot of people just fall into it. It’s not necessarily a career choice that people make,” she said. “Many people see it as a stepping stone. We have some people start as a dispatcher and then move on to patrol positions.”

In order to improve working conditions, dispatchers are hoping for the passage of H.R. 1629, the 911 Saves Act. The U.S. bill has passed the House and is on its way to the Senate.

“Federally, we’re not considered public safety or first responders. We’re considered receptionists,” said Odenbach. “This bill would help with that.”

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