The city of Jacksonville is being forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay to Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department dispatchers because there are not enough employees to do the job.
Emergency callers to 911 are still getting quick responses, but some current and former employees say the job is getting harder to do because the department is very short-staffed and dispatchers are being forced to work long hours.
There is much more to a dispatch job than answering phones and sending out Fire-Rescue crews.
"It's a difficult job. It's a high-stress job," Fire Chief Marty Senterfitt said. "These dispatchers are giving instructions on CPR and choking, children and things."
That stress level is one reason Senterfitt said JFRD is having trouble keeping people on the job, which pays about $40,000 a year. The department is short about nine positions, so current employees are being forced to work mandatory overtime. For some, that might be seven days a week.
"If we can't get anyone to volunteer for the overtime, we mandate the overtime," Senterfitt said. "Of course, our No. 1 concern in Jacksonville is we have to have dispatchers in the seats to answer the 911 calls that come in."
That overtime is not only forcing some to leave, but it's costing the city. This budget year, the department has spent more than $350,000 in overtime. That's a 20 percent increase over the previous year.
The state requires more training now for dispatchers, and it takes months before they can be replaced. One former dispatcher said this situation is creating a danger.
"If you are tired and you are their supposedly answering 911 calls and helping people that are having problems and trying to make sure you get the right unit to the right address, yes it is a safety issue, as far as I am concerned," the dispatcher said.
Senterfitt doesn't think so.
"It would be a safety issue if we weren't spreading the overtime out," he said. "We try to be very careful who is working how many hours."