By Cathy Patton
WELCH – They’re unseen, unheralded and sometimes unappreciated but the 14 Emergency Dispatchers at the McDowell 911 Center are undeniably efficient and effective as they fulfill their daily duties tucked away from the world at their desks on the second story of the 911/OES building on Virginia Avenue.
“The job is not for everybody,” said 911 Director Teresa VanDyke. “You have to be able to type accurately while in the process of receiving and giving information. You have to remain focused while multi-tasking and remember to articulate and enunciate properly to avoid confusion.”
The dispatchers monitor 18 radio frequencies and 52 lines to state 911 centers.
Though some may seek the job out of a desire for excitement, such individuals don’t usually last through the 12 months of intense training that the certification process entails. The dispatchers must maintain the right skills and the right attitude at all times because the callers’ very lives depend on them.
“It can be exciting but everyone is not cut out for it,” VanDyke said. “It gets too stressful and some quit after just a day or two.”
In fact, Van Dyke said one such trainee remarked to her supervisor, “This is just like real life.” That trainee, she said, submitted her resignation letter the next day.
To qualify to be a dispatcher, Van Dyke said an applicant must be 18, have a high school diploma or GED. After being hired, the trainee must pass a drug screening and a hearing test and then the real work begins.
New hires are trained in CPR/First Aid and must maintain their CPR certification. Additionally, dispatchers must pass a 40-hour APCO Public Safety Telecommuicator 1 course, a 32-hour APCO Emergency Medical Dispatch course, a State Police W.E.A.P.O.N (teletype) course, First Responder, EMT or Paramedic, several FEMA classes, and all in-service training required by the eight-member 911 Board.
APCO, VanDyke said, is an acronym for the Association of Public Safety Communication Officials and is an organization that provides complete public safety communications expertise and national certification. APCO training is nationally recognized and touted for providing telecommunicators with the vital skills their jobs require.
“EMT and Paramedic certification gives extra pay on the dispatcher’s hourly rate,” Van Dyke said, noting that dispatcher pay begins at $8.25 per hour and increases incrementally to $8.75 when all requirements are met, and then again on the anniversary date.
Full time employees benefits include PEIA medical insurance with the option for Dental and Eye Insurance, paid holidays, paid vacation after one year and PIRS retirement.
Speaking of training, VanDyke said she and Deputy Director Angela Robinette conduct the First Responder/EMT Training. Supervisor Thea Toler does the Dispatch Training.
In the near future, VanDyke added, “We will be implementing two new nationally recognized classes through APCO, Fire Dispatch and Law Enforcement Dispatch.”
The 911 Center, VanDyke said, currently has an opening for one full-time and one part-time dispatcher and noted that all employment applications are taken through WorkForce WV, Welch.
Fees attached to all cell phone and landline bills fund the 911 Center. The County Commission assists with the center’s fuel costs and insurance, Van Dyke said.
Though the job is tough because of the high stress and the swing shifts, it remains rewarding.
“The dispatchers are the first of the first responders,” Van Dyke said. “They enjoy helping people. Just ask one of them who has helped to deliver a baby over the phone.”