Balto. Co. us­ing cops, oth­ers at 911 cen­ter

County has dif­fi­culty re­tain­ing em­ploy­ees and looks to fill va­can­cies

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Pamela Wood pwood@balt­ twit­

Bal­ti­more County of­fi­cials say they are us­ing fire­fight­ers, paramedics and po­lice of­fi­cers to tem­po­rar­ily fill staffing gaps at the county’s 911 cen­ter.

Eight em­ploy­ees from other de­part­ments were trans­ferred to the 911 cen­ter in Septem­ber and will be work­ing there un­til March, county spokes­woman Ellen Kobler said.

Six em­ploy­ees who once worked for 911 but are now po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers or paramedics are on tem­po­rary as­sign­ment as dis­patch­ers. Two oth­ers, in­clud­ing a public works em­ployee, are work­ing tem­po­rar­ily in ad­min­is­tra­tive roles at the 911 cen­ter.

Bal­ti­more County has had dif­fi­culty main­tain­ing staffing lev­els at the 911 cen­ter, which em­ploys both call-tak­ers who an­swer emer­gency calls and dis­patch­ers who as­sign of­fi­cers and fire crews to re­spond to calls.

“These are very dif­fi­cult, chal­leng­ing po­si­tions,” Kobler said.

John Ri­p­ley is pres­i­dent of the Bal­ti­more County Fed­er­a­tion of Public Em­ploy­ees, which rep­re­sents 911 work­ers. He asked whether it’s wise to take first re­spon­ders off the street to work in the 911 cen­ter.

“If you pull one of­fi­cer off the street, it weak­ens the county’s abil­ity to re­spond to emer­gen­cies,” he said.

This isn’t the first time that the county has pulled back former 911 work­ers. In spring 2015, seven po­lice and fire depart­ment em­ploy­ees were called back to fill va­can­cies tem­po­rar­ily at 911.

“I think it’s an ac­knowl­edg­ment of the fail­ure of the cur­rent di­rec­tion that the 911 cen­ter is go­ing,” Ri­p­ley said.

He said many em­ploy­ees are frus­trated about a re­cent switch to 12-hour shifts that ro­tate among dif­fer­ent days, and the amount of re­quired over­time and standby shifts on sched­uled days off. The union has filed a griev­ance with the county over pay ad­just­ments that cor­re­sponded with the switch to 12-hour shifts.

Those pres­sures have led em­ploy­ees to quit, Ri­p­ley said. He said bring­ing back former 911 em­ploy­ees is a stop­gap that doesn’t ad­dress the fun­da­men­tal prob­lems.

Kobler said the 911 cen­ter has more than the re­quired num­ber of em­ploy­ees. There are 198 em­ploy­ees, she said; the au­tho­rized staffing level is 172 em­ploy­ees.

But 47 are re­cent grad­u­ates of train­ing classes and are still do­ing on-the-job train­ing and not yet work­ing in­de­pen­dently. So the 911 cen­ter is ef­fec­tively short the equiv­a­lent of 21 em­ploy­ees, Kobler said.

Bal­ti­more County is so­lic­it­ing ap­pli­cants for the next train­ing class, set to be­gin in De­cem­ber.

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