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LAKEWOOD, Colo. (KDVR) – Two call taker trainees who attended months of training at the Jeffcom 911 center have dropped out of the program, contributing to a nearly 20-employee shortage at the facility.

“It’s heartbreaking for me just in, well, I want everybody to succeed,” said Bess Joyce, the training manager at Jeffcom 911. “I want everybody to do this. I also know it’s hard, and I also know that it’s not something everybody can do, and that’s OK.”

While eight recruits from Jeffcom 911’s most recent academy successfully completed the rigorous program and are now handling 911 calls on their own, two dropped out after more than four months of training.

“It seems to be a perfect storm of events,” said Joyce, who told the Problem Solvers the recent drop-out rate was not unexpected. An average of 20% of recruits have quit past programs, she said.

Joyce said people often drop out for a combination of reasons. Some have a bad training experience and others do not like the idea of having to work on holidays or other difficult shifts.

“Working nights, if you haven’t worked nights before, is brutal,” she said.

But most importantly, mastering the skills that come with 911 call taking is crucial.

“Everybody wants to see progression in skills and knowledge and everything. We also want to see consistency,” said Joyce. “I’m not expecting you to be perfect on every call, but this is real life or death situations that if you spend an extra 30 seconds trying to figure out the skill that you’re lacking (that) could mean somebody dying.”

Jeffcom 911 has been hiring “pretty much non-stop since 2018,” Bess said.

It has been difficult to recruit “people that want to work Christmas, that want to work overnight, that want to work, you know, where people are going to scream at them,” she said.  “We’re trying to figure out different ways to do that. We’re trying to figure out what is that thing that is going to make people want to stay.”

The job also requires skills that are learned and perfected on the job. 

“I can’t train customer service, really. I can’t train problem-solving. I can’t train thinking outside the box. I can just tell you to do it, so it’s really interesting to see their process through that,” said Joyce.

Although it is challenging, Joyce said many recruits find the job incredibly rewarding, especially when they experience happy and hopeful calls, like a baby delivery over the phone.

“It’s not just an everyday job,” said Nancy Burckhalter, who completed the training process on schedule.

“This is serious. The decisions you make and how seriously you take it and how well you are at your job can drastically affect someone in the community, and I think that’s what makes the job so rewarding is that you have to be on top of it at all times,” she said.

Burckhalter said she recently handled a call from a woman whose husband had shot himself in the head. She said she felt confident with her training and handled the call calmly and quickly.

“I was so comfortable in my abilities that I was able to get help there in a matter of minutes with the information that she provided, and it was just so – I can’t think of the right word – comforting, I guess, to just see how far I have come from a few months ago to now and just be completely confident and to help someone in the worst moment of their life.”

Caroline Davis, another recent academy graduate, said transitioning from call-taking at night to call-taking during the day can be difficult.

“During the day, you’re getting a lot more administrative calls…which is the non-emergency calls, and during the nighttime, if you see a 911 come across your board, it’s typically a true emergency,” she said.

“It’s not a light job. It feels great though,” said Davis, who recently helped a woman who reported a burglar in her home.

“We got to the point where she was talking, and then she was whispering,” said Davis. “And then I said, ‘OK. We’re going to start to communicate in button taps. Press one button for ‘yes.’ Two for ‘no,’ and I’m going to ask you yes/no questions,’” said Davis.  “So that really awakened me to the severity of the situation.  Luckily everything ended up well, but it awakens you to what actually happens when people are trapped and might not have a way out.”

Lynelle Turner, who passed out of the academy after having extended training, said some of her most frustrating calls come from people who are in the mountains.

“They just go into a panic, you know, ‘Why is it taking so long?’ You know? ‘Where are they? How much longer is it going to take?’” she said.  “You just have to keep telling them, ‘They’re on their way. They’re coming.’”

Turner recently helped a woman whose husband was losing consciousness as a result of his Type 1 Diabetes.

“It’s been a long road, and I’m glad that I’m still here,” said Turner.

Another recruit who passed out of the academy, Liam (who declined to provide his last name), agreed that the response times for calls from the mountains can be lengthy.

“You’re doing CPR for like, 30 minutes, and you get worried about the caller having to do CPR for that long because it becomes ineffective after a certain amount of time, and you get tired and fatigued,” he said.

Vicki Haiges, a recruit profiled by the Problem Solvers, resigned from the program in late September. A second recruit, who was not profiled by the Problem Solvers, quit during September too.

“My thoughts go out to them. We’re going to miss them. They always have a place in our hearts,” said Liam.  “I wish the best for them.”