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Trumbull County short on 911 dispatchers

Overtime usage at center doubles same time frame in 2019

WARREN — The Trumbull County 911 Center is down several dispatchers, resulting in overtime use doubling compared to the same time period as last year.

While the center is authorized to staff up to 33, only 27 dispatchers are on staff now. In the first four months of 2019, the center had 32 dispatchers. Several left the center for employment elsewhere or because of health issues, said Ernie Cook, Trumbull County 911 director.

Cook and Richard Jackson, director of human resources for the county, were prepared to hire several people a few weeks ago and the hirings were placed on a commissioners’ agenda, but the action items were removed in consideration of the commissioners’ hiring freeze.

“We’re in need of employees and have been,” Cook said.

The work is considered essential and failing to fill the positions will cost the county more money in overtime costs, Cook said.

“Someone has to be in that seat to take those calls,” he said.

Commissioners on Wednesday approved the resignation of one dispatcher and approved the hiring of another at $13.40 per hour. Cook said he has more candidates he’d like commissioners to hire, and the jobs have been posted.

The center is funded not just with county general fund money, but also with funds collected from cellphone users and communities that use the center for dispatching.

Another issue increasing overtime costs and straining the staff is how many of the employees have been authorized to use the Family Medical Leave Act to take time off.

Of the 27 dispatchers, 10 have applied for and been approved for FMLA leave, Jackson said. That doesn’t mean the employees are off for long blocks of days unless a surgery or something similar requires it, but the employees can take off time in 15-minute intervals — up to 12 weeks in a year — for reasons outlined in their approved application. Some people have elderly parents they have to take care of, a qualifying reason for FMLA to be granted; others have chronic health issues that occasionally flare up, Jackson said.

But whenever one of the employees uses FMLA to take time off, Cook can’t let the shift go unfilled, so he has to call in others to fill the spot.

“This isn’t like other places where if someone calls off, the line gets a little bit longer. We have to call someone in,” Cook said.

It creates a strain on the other employees, Cook said.

“Someone might have plans to go to their son’s baseball game, and they get called in. It hurts their co-workers,” Cook said.

Going forward, the commissioners said they want to examine each request to enact FMLA in the department. A “disproportionate amount” of employees in the office have filed for FMLA, Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said.

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