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The first first responders need help: Deschutes 911 seeks to hire more dispatchers

They answer the call 24/7, even during a hiring squeeze

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- "911 -- what is the address of your emergency?" a Deschutes County dispatcher asked Friday -- a famous line we recognize and rely on, 24/7. The trustworthy ring and assurance that help will soon be on the way.

On the surface, 911 dispatchers are a calm voice in the dark for many -- but they serve our community in great, unseen ways.

The 911 call-takers function as the first first responders. They answer calls all day -- many of which save lives.

Deschutes County 911 gets 1,000-1,200 calls per day. If there are eight employees, that means they could answer 150 calls a day -- each.

"I'm sending the paramedics now,, so stay on the line and I'll tell you exactly what to do next," the dispatcher said, guiding the caller on the phone.

In the last 30 days, they've answered 97% of calls in 10 seconds or less. The national goal for 911 dispatch centers is to answer 90% in 10 seconds.

Even though they're keeping up with call volume, Deschutes 911 is facing challenges -- like so many businesses and organizations these days, they need more employees.

So what happens when the first first responders are short workers?

Emergencies still happen, so current employees are working longer, which is taking a toll on them -- especially given the nature of the job.

"Is there any serious bleeding?" asked the dispatcher.

Sara Crosswhite, director of Deschutes County 911, says call-takers will handle crises throughout the whole day, and it adds up.

"We're coming to work every day, and we're seeing it first hand, through our phone calls. And that's tough," she said

The 911 operators dispatch all emergency calls to the sheriff's office, police, and fire and rescue agencies. Operators also give first responders details of the situation as they rush to the scene.

Sgt. Jayson Janes, public information officer for the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, says that part of the process is crucial for their safety.

"We rely on them to pass that information to us while we're responding," Janes said. "And without them giving us that information, we don't always know what we're going into."

Crosswhite said one reason she thinks they're struggling to find workers is because 911 is a "behind-the-scenes" job.

"I think the challenge is people understanding this is a career, and knowing what we do here,' she said.

"The officers, firefighters, and EMS don't just come to your house without getting that call from us. And so just the importance of letting them know we're out there for people as a job option."

Deschutes County 911 is hiring about six employees at present. At least eight call-takers are on the floor per shift, for 12-hour shifts. They have 33 dispatchers now, and are working to have 39 trained and available.

Being a 911 call-taker is something current employees told NewsChannel 21 is a rewarding job.

"It's a pretty phenomenal job, to know that at the end of every day, you've made a difference," said Megan Craig, training manager at 911.

And she's not alone in noting the impact their job has. Chris Perry, operations manager, said, "It's pretty special to be a part of this group."

Above all -- even though they are down a few employees, Crosswhite tells NewsChannel 21 how they manage to keep answering calls and saving lives.

"Everybody looks out for one another, and that's the nice thing about this. This is a family," she said.

The training to become a 911 operator is provided, and you don't need to have previous experience.

Here's a link for more information about a career at the Deschutes County 911 Dispatch Center.

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.



  1. Having been on the receiving end of a 911 dispatcher’s advice more than once, I know firsthand what a great job they do. Training is one thing, but it takes intelligence, understanding, and compassion too. I consider these folks every bit the heroes as the first responders they dispatch.

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