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911 call centers in Denver metro suffering from staff shortages, increasing wait times

Jeffcom 911
Posted at 6:49 PM, Sep 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-07 20:49:45-04

DENVER — In an emergency, every second counts. When there aren't enough people on the other line, those seconds can add up.

"We have lost upwards of about 30 personnel this year already," Jeffcom 911 deputy director Mike Brewer said Tuesday.

Like many industries, 911 call centers across the Denver metro are short-staffed. Not only is that increasing call wait times, but it's putting pressure on those answering the calls.

"A lot of us are coming in early or staying late and doing that multiple times throughout the week and sometimes weeks on end," Jeffcom 911 emergency communications specialist Marq Nava said.

Jeffcom 911 is 18 staff members short of its authorized strength of 118. And of those 100, 10 of them are in training. That means when people call 911, they may have to wait to get the help they really need.

"We're talking seconds, really, but it's a slippery slope," Brewer said.

Being short-staffed also takes a toll on morale in an already stressful and emotionally draining environment.

"Our morale at times can affect the way that we do the job, which I hate to say, but we're tired. We're human just like everyone else," Nava said.

At Denver 911, the shortage is worse. Its authorized strength is 93 employees. It's currently at 67. Twelve of them are still in training.

"When staffing levels get low and then you add to that that our call volume is the highest it's been in five years, that means that there is certainly the potential to be on hold," City and County of Denver Emergency Communications Director Andrew Dameron said. "There's a chance that they could wind up waiting for a few minutes before they get through to a call taker."

Brewer and Dameron said people are leaving the industry because of high stress and difficult work schedules, and they're seeking less demanding and likely better-paying opportunities.

"When you are dealing with frustrated and impatient people on top of the traumatic and difficult calls that they take on a daily basis, it can add up," Dameron said.

It takes months to train a new hire before they're ready, which is why retaining people by increasing pay, for example, is their top priority.

"We're not immune from the 'Great Resignation,' as it's been deemed," Dameron said.

As both agencies work to make the job more attractive, they want to remind the public to only call 911 for emergencies.

"The more people recognize that 911 really is for emergencies only, the better off we all are," Dameron said.

In Denver, for example, there are several ways to report a non-emergency, including online and through the non-emergency line, (720) 913-2000. For city-related issues, call 311.