911 operator industry facing worker shortage

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- They're the men and women you hear first if you need help, but the 911 operator industry is facing a shortage, and they could use your help.

6,000 calls a day, and over one million a year. For the people of Phoenix who need help, it's the men and women on the other side of the phone line that are the true first responders.

"Obviously, they're not calling you because they're having a good day," said Phoenix Police dispatcher Maria Abeyta. She has been working dispatch for eight years.

"They're calling for help, so my priority is to focus on just that, getting the information that I need so that I know I'm doing what I need for them," said Abeyta.

The profession is facing a national shortage. The stress level is a big part of that.

"You go from someone calling in about a pothole to someone calling in about someone breaking in to their home or watching an armed burglary or something," said Abeyta. "So, your emotional levels kind of go up and down."

Pay can range from $17 to $20 an hour nationwide to start. It adds up to dispatchers being in demand. However, ask any police officer and they'll tell you you can't put a price on them.

"They're like a partner, even though they're not in your car, you're just as dependent on them as if you had a partner in your car," said Sgt. Tommy Thompson with the Phoenix Police Department.

Abeyta says it's important to de-stress, and the department also provides people to talk the problems out with.

"You need to take that time," said Abeyta. "Whether it's reading a book, drive with the radio off, go to the gym, whatever you need to decompress."

Being constantly dialed in can take it's toll, but for many, it feels good to be a lifeline for the community.

"There's not a police officer alive that say they could survive without a dispatcher," said Sgt. Thompson.

"At the end of the day it's everybody's safety, and my job is vital to getting the information necessary to help them out," said Abeyta.

Phoenix Police Communications Operator