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The 'first first responders': Fond du Lac is searching for more 911 dispatchers

Posted at 5:51 PM, Nov 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-14 18:51:50-05
  • Fond du Lac County, like many counties in the state, is experiencing some issues with staffing its 911 call center.
  • The center is changing around its shift schedules to better accommodate its staffing.
  • Dispatchers provide a first level of support for people in crisis.
  • Video shows more on how the emergency management center is addressing the issue and keeping the community safe.

They call themselves the “first first responders.”
Emergency dispatchers are responsible for helping people through their hardest moments, and low staffing can make the job even more taxing.

“We’re the first person to pick up that call when you find your loved one dead, or the first person to pick up the call when your child goes missing,” Tia Theel said.

Theel has been a dispatcher for three years and a supervisor since May. She’s one of 17 people in the department working at the center—about 10 fewer than Fond du Lac County Communications & Emergency Management Director Amy Haase said they have positions for in the budget.

“It's common for education centers to have staffing issues just with today's day and age and with the nature of the work,” Amy Haase, Fond du Lac County Communications & Emergency Management Director, said. “It's not a Monday through Friday job so people that work here are gonna end up working weekends and holidays.”

These dispatchers can work up to 12 consecutive hours with no breaks, and accumulate a lot of overtime. So, after dealing with staffing issues for a long time, Haase says changing schedules could be a solution.

Currently, dispatchers work in three, 8-hour shift rotations. But starting in January, dispatchers will work in two, 12-hour shift rotations, and will work three days in a row and then have three days off (plus a fourth day every few weeks).

“It will be kind of a major change for staffing, but I think it'll be a good thing in the long run,” Haase said.

Haase said many dispatchers were already working 12 hour shifts because of overtime needed to meet minimum staffing requirements, and this change could help with recruiting new dispatchers as well.

Supervisors now also assist with dispatching, to provide more resources to callers. Now, one shift does not have a supervisor, but Haase said the new schedule could help with that.

And Theel, who specializes in training new hires, said the crew is excited to welcome new officers on board.

“You're surrounded by people who support you and are there for you in the times when you do have very hard calls,” Theel said.

A link to applications can be found here. New hires take about four to six months to train, and then will begin on the new schedule.