NWTC saving taxpayers money with emergency dispatch training

July 22, 2013

From fox11online.com: “On Special Assignment: 911 Center” — GREEN BAY – After struggling for years to maintain staffing levels where emergency calls roll in 24/7, Brown County’s 911 Communications Center is making changes to improve worker conditions, while also looking for ways to save taxpayer money.

The Brown County 911 Communications Center employs 62 workers when fully staffed, but maintaining that number has been difficult in recent years.

When one dispatcher quits it takes time and money to find and adequately train a replacement. And while that takes place, other dispatchers are forced to work longer hours leading to increased stress. And for many it’s been a breaking point.

“The stress from the calls, it’s kind of like getting punched in the stomach and then saying thank you can I have another,” said Jason Lemmens, who quit his dispatcher job with Brown County back in 2011. Lemmens spoke out during FOX 11’s initial On Special Assignment report that aired in early February.

Fourteen quit in all during 2011. In 2012 the center saw 15 dispatchers go. Late in the year Cullen Peltier was brought in as interim director to fix the staffing problems that led to rising costs, and poor morale which raised public safety concerns.

“I do think they have a valid concern, when you have new trainees, until they find their feet, find their groove,” Krystal DuBois said during a January 2012 interview. DuBois is a former Brown County dispatcher who quit last year after 11 years on the job.

Peltier disputed former workers’ claims that trading experienced dispatchers for their rookie replacements was putting anyone in danger.

But he did not dispute the added one million dollar plus cost to fully train the large influx of new dispatchers. Back in January he promised changes would be coming. Six months later I returned to talk to Peltier to hold him accountable.

“We looked at the figures then and you were at a 24 percent turnover rate, the national average was 18 percent and you told me then you hoped to get down to 10 to 12 percent,” Mark Leland asked Peltier.

“Yes, that’s still a goal we’re doing our best to alleviate some of the turnover,” said Peltier.

In fact during the first six months of 2013 Peltier acknowledges four dispatchers have quit. If the second half of the year sees a similar number leave, that would put the turnover rate just about on target at 12.9 percent–nearly half of what it was last year.

“Well you know I’d like to see zero turnover but unfortunately in this profession we are going to see some turnover,” said Peltier.

As was the case six months ago for our initial report, current workers we contacted declined comment on camera. But Peltier says workers have been a big part of the solution. They were solicited to help and came up with a new shift schedule to cut down on overtime and working weekends thereby reducing stress and improving morale.

“The majority of staff prefers that schedule so we’re going to go to that,” said Peltier.

Instead of 8 hour shifts that oftentimes were inflated to 12 to cover holes in the schedule, workers starting next year will work 10 or 12 hour overlapping shifts. The schedule will eliminate 600 work hours right off the bat. And that will save money.

So far this year with fewer vacancies Peltier says 1,000 overtime hours have been cut compared to this time last year. And additional taxpayer savings will start coming in thanks to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

“In terms of saving costs for the taxpayers I think it makes a big difference,” said John Flannery, a former Brown County Sheriff’s Deputy who is now an instructor at NWTC. This summer Flannery taught the school’s first class in emergency dispatching.

By having the school prepare prospective hires for the 911 Communications Center, the county stands to save the cost of that initial first week of what is now paid training.

“We looked at the cost savings that could come through having them come to this course before they get hired so it was kind of a win-win for everybody,” said Flannery.

Ten students completed the course last month. Another class is set for next month. After passing a national exam, the students are certified as emergency dispatchers.

Peltier says many more weeks of training are needed before new hires can field 9-1-1 calls at the communications center. But with applicants spending their own time and money on that first week of training at NWTC, he says it shows added commitment.

“I think that’s a good thing. I think it shows they have the drive to want to do this job and they also have a better understanding of the job coming in,” said Peltier.

Currently the class is not a requirement to apply for a dispatcher position with Brown County, but Peltier says in time that could change. And he’d even like to see more training completed before getting on the payroll, much like is the case for police officers and firefighters.

“It’s map reading, comprehension, typing data entry, and we want to have them focus their students on the tasks we need them to complete before we have them come in and take the test,” said Peltier.

Peltier says the county realistically could save tens of thousands of dollars a year depending on the amount of hiring needed.

The Communications Center is currently accepting applications for the four fulltime openings. Interviews are expected to be scheduled in the next couple of weeks, with those who successfully completed the NWTC class given priority in the hiring process.

Click here for NWTC emergency dispatcher course offering.

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