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Summit County struggles to hire 911 dispatchers as county faces workforce housing crisis

Dispatcher won't face lawsuit in deadly shooting
Posted at 5:23 PM, Jul 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 10:56:08-04

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. — Summit County is desperate to hire 911 dispatchers. County officials say the dispatch team is currently half the size it should be.

"We take about 65 to 70,000 calls a year," Summit County 911 Center director Jerry Del Valle told Denver7.

Two dispatchers are responsible for handling roughly 190 calls per day, according to Del Valle. In some instances, only one dispatcher is available to work a full shift.

Del Valle says it's a workload he'd typically staff four people for, but right now, that's not possible.

"So fully staffed, we're talking 15 dispatchers, three supervisors. Right now, we have two supervisors, and we have seven fully-trained dispatchers," the director said.

Being short-staffed in a county of 30,000 people, which can see upwards of 100,000 people in peak season, has been challenging, especially when multiple 911 calls are coming in at the same time.

"There's been times where that second call could be a choking baby. As a matter of fact, we've had that happen. We have to transfer and put the other person on hold," Del Valle said.

The issue was even more glaring during the Buffalo Mountain Fire in 2020.

"With the fire, there was so many calls coming in at once that they were just dropping," Del Valle said. "People couldn't even get through."

Staffing shortages are common across Colorado, and happen for a variety of reasons. Jason Dietz, the county's housing director, believes the issue comes down to one factor.

"The housing prices, [and] rents have jumped dramatically in the last couple of years," Dietz said.

The county proclaimed a workforce housing crisis in 2021, as they "expected to be 2,000 units short of the housing needed to meet the demands of the local workforce," according to a county document.

"As we look forward, there are several hundred more units that are being planned right now," Dietz said.

In the meantime, Del Valle is doing whatever he can to hire more dispatchers, as he fights to keep the ones he has.

"People move on to other things just because, you know, the job is sometimes, it's just stress for them," Del Valle said.

Starting pay for a Summit County dispatcher starts at about $28 per hour.