VALE — Despite a few hiccups and challenges, dispatchers said they are seeing progress since the 911 dispatch center consolidated more than three years ago.
Prior to the consolidation on July 1, 2014, the Ontario dispatch center serviced first responder calls in Ontario and, at some point, in Nyssa too. Meanwhile, the Vale dispatch center serviced the remainder of Malheur County. To save costs, the centers were consolidated and since then, dispatchers have been working to perform their duties as well as taking on challenges posed by the transition.
Since the merging of both centers, two longtime dispatchers said they have encountered challenges but are continually seeing progress.
One unexpected challenge, said Tom Braniff, a 16-year dispatch veteran and sergeant of the center, was the radio noise.
“I didn’t realize how noisy it would be on the radio with all of the agencies,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to many of the dispatcher, Braniff said, was learning the geography of each city.
For instance, when Ontario dispatchers went to Vale, their geography expanded to include the entire county, while those in Vale had to learn Ontario’s geography.
“In the beginning, it was very cumbersome, but over time as all dispatchers got used to the new and expanded area, much of it improved and it will continue to,” Braniff said.
Another challenge he noted is keeping fully staffed. However, he believes understaffing just comes with the line of work adding that “it’s not a job for everyone.”
Since the consolidation, Braniff said there have only been two months where the center was fully staffed at the desired amount of 10 people. Currently, there are eight dispatchers.
This is possibly in relation to the unrealistic expectations set out about 911 dispatchers.
“If you ask a typical person on the street on what dispatcher do, they may just say, ‘They answer 911 calls,’” he said.
That, Braniff added, is only one part of the job.
“We are a lot more involved than most people could ever possibly imagine,” he said.
The 911 dispatch center serves the entire county, including police and fire departments, and in an average year, answers about 120,000 calls. Of those calls, only 20 percent are said to be 911 calls, the rest of them are business calls, Braniff said.
“Those calls can be anything under the sun. Sometimes people call to ask to speak with an officer about their case or any other number of reasons,” he said. “You have lines going in and lines going out.”
Moreover, there is a large amount of multitasking. Dispatchers have to hear the radio, answer the phone, direct the officer where to go and more.
“It’s a lot more fast-paced,” Brittany Ross, a dispatcher who has been with the center since Feb. 2016, said.
In her 16-year career with dispatch, Kathy Ross said she has seen a lot of change, including the move over from Ontario to Vale. Although it presented itself to be a challenge in its beginning stages, Ross said it has improved.
“In the beginning, when we consolidated, the agencies “suffered” because some of us weren’t as familiar with Vale or Ontario compared to others. There have definitely been hiccups and bumps, but I see progress,” she said of her three years since the centers consolidation.
Of her favorite part about the job, Ross said, it all comes down to helping people.
Braniff said he agrees, but adds that it also has to do with the fact that each day is different.
“You don’t know what that next call is. It could be a house fire, a kid who is stuck in dog house, someone having a baby, spiders, dogs with no water or someone who wants a turkey recipe. There is just no way of knowing,” he said.
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