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Henrico County has 911 dispatcher shortage: 'Every center is short'

Posted at 6:51 PM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 20:08:18-05

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Henrico County’s 911 center is in need of dispatchers who play a vital role in the safety of the community.

Attracting applicants has become a challenge for many emergency call centers throughout the country, according to Henrico dispatcher Ally Steuart.

Steuart admitted that the job is stressful and demanding.

“I get to sit behind a desk everyday and answer that phone and save somebody’s life,” she explained.

Dispatchers are also trained to give instructions in first aid and CPR. Some have even helped deliver babies over the phone.

They work weekends, holidays and long hours inside the Henrico Emergency Communications Center on East Parham Road. Steuart said a typical 10-hour shift has lately turned into 14 to 16 hour shifts because of the staffing shortages.

“You have to have patience in this job because for those citizens it is their worst day of their life. If you can’t be patient and work through that they are never going to come down and let you know what’s going on. You will never get them to do CPR. If you’re yelling at them or stressed because they’re stressed — nothing is going to come out of that,” Steuart stated.

Dispatchers juggle five computer screens while listening to citizens and relaying that information to officers or firefighters.

After three years on the job, Steuart has risen within the ranks and trains new recruits.

But despite the challenges, working in a dispatch center can be rewarding, she said. She described the partnership and cooperation amongst first responders as a family.

“I get to do CPR. I get to stop the bleeding from a wound. I get to talk somebody down from hurting themselves and I go home at the end of the day thinking I saved someone’s life,” Steuart said.

Friday morning, nine new recruits graduated from the county’s dispatcher academy.

If you would like to apply to become a Henrico 911 dispatcher, you’re encouraged to apply online at Henrico.us.