SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — 911 Dispatchers may not be the first people you see in an emergency, but they are the first people you speak to. There’s an ongoing struggle, for many communities in our area, to keep enough of them on staff.
Sevierville Police Department is working to make the job one that’s sought-after more often.
Activity at the 911 dispatch center at SPD varies day to day, Krystal Stubbs, SPD Communications Officer, said.
“In the storms, with the floods, it was nonstop,” she said. “You’d have back-to-back stuff going on. You didn’t have a second to take a breath.”
But, Stubbs remembers another not-so-quiet day in April 2019, after the shooting at the Tanger Outlets, well. She recalled the stress of sending officers to the scene, without knowing the full scope of what was happening.
Although days like that one are tough on her, emotionally, she loves her job.
“I think it’s what I’m meant to do. I get to help people every day… There are certain days where you’re like, I really made a difference in that person’s life today, and it just makes it even more worth it,” she said.
Trudy Rioza knows the job well after 20 years and described it simply as, “you sit down. You take those important calls.”
She runs off adrenaline, compassion, and an ability to make decisions quickly.
To work in dispatch, she explained, you have to be able to multi-task and be able to handle what’s on the other end of a call.
“You can’t take home those terrible days. You have a bad day, you have to deal with it, leave it here, just like you would leave your home at home,” Rioza said. “You don’t bring it to work. You don’t take work home. You have to be able to separate those two. Otherwise, it will wear on you.”
Last year, SPD dispatch received 43,000 calls, according to City of Sevierville Public Information Officer Bob Stahlke, who also said there is an ongoing struggle to keep their dispatch center staffed with 10 full-time employees.
Whether the turnover is due to illness, or a person realizes the work isn’t for them, in the last year, he said, they’ve been short as many as three dispatchers.
“The job market in this booming economy for most positions is tight. We’re experiencing that in a lot of things in the city, not just with dispatchers, police officers and other jobs as well. So, we want to provide the best pay, the best benefits, and the best working conditions we can, because we want the best people here,” Stahlke said.
He said Chief Joseph Manning will request pay raises for 911 dispatchers in his budget request for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, as well as an additional full-time communications officer position.
In addition to more pay and more staff, Stahlke said the department is also making efforts to include dispatchers in more training and more debriefings, following tragic events that can come with an emotional toll on emergency personnel.
SPD is actually ahead of federal legislation, called the 911 Saves Act.
It would reclassify dispatchers from clerical staff to protective service workers, if passed.
It aims to encourage local police departments to improve working conditions, and offer more benefits and more trauma support.
Stahlke explained the importance of dispatchers for the department, “They may be in an office of dispatch center and not be out at the actual incident, but they’re incredibly valuable. And, if they don’t do a good job, the people in the field are going to be hindered by that.”
Rioza attended her first debriefing last year.
“I was floored because we normally aren’t asked,” she said. When asked what it meant to her to be able to go, she replied, “It meant that I mattered. It really did.”
SPD currently has an opening for a 911 dispatcher. The starting pay is $32,850 a year. You can apply in person or here.
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