Dispatchers in short supply in Colorado

BOULDER, Colo. -- It’s the voice at the other end to reassure you on your worst day, but in Colorado, those voices are in short supply.

The Wall Street Journal highlighted the shortage of 911 dispatchers. In Colorado, it includes major areas, including Jefferson, Adams and Boulder counties, along with Denver.

“It’s not an easy job,” said Boulder County Sheriff Division Chief Heidi Prentup. “And we have a lot of people that care a lot about their community and about other people.”

The men and women who run the phones for Boulder County emergencies are passionate about what they do.

“This job is fast-paced, it’s technology driven,” said dispatch supervisor Michael Radden. “Every day you walk in not knowing what you’re gonna get, but feeling prepared at the same time to deal with it.”

But it takes a certain type of person to do the job.

Prentup said people don’t necessarily acknowledge the dispatcher’s role in having their problems solved, and sometimes people confuse them with police officers, not realizing it’s a separate entity.

“I think part of it is, very few people think, ‘Oh I want to be a dispatcher when I grow up,’” Prentup said.

Boulder County has six openings, which means it's operating at 80 percent of what its full staff should be.

While Prentup said it hasn't decreased the level of service, a lot of people are working overtime. Last year, Boulder County dispatchers worked 5,330 hours of overtime.

The hours are long, and the skill set isn’t easy to find. Prentup said tech-savvy people who are good at problem solving, working under stressful situations and good with connecting with people are needed.

The unique skill set isn’t easy to find, not to mention the job can be emotionally and mentally taxing.

“They don’t get closure on a lot of the calls,” Prentup said. “Because they handle the situation, maybe somebody is screaming over the phone. They get this person to calm down, and then the officer arrives on scene and then they don’t know what happens in the end.”

Prentup said money isn’t usually a factor that turns people away from the industry.

A dispatcher starting with Boulder County could earn more than $42,000 a year, with plenty of room for raises and promotions to earn nearly double as dispatchers grow in the system.

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