The Consolidated Dispatch Agency (CDA) is on an uphill climb as it works to overcome a series of tragic errors and fill vacant positions.
The agency ran into trouble soon after it was created in 2013. It endured some high profile technical problems that were blamed, in part, for the shooting death of Leon County deputy Chris Smith as he responded to a house fire.
The CDA was also blamed for bumbled responses in the Betton Hills murder of a Florida State University law professor and a shooting at FSU’s Strozier Library.
Now, a new interim director is at the helm. Steve Harrelson has soent nearly 30 years with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. He’s also the CDA’s fourth director in five years. He says his priorities include fully staffing the dispatch floor – where 500,000 calls are answered annually - and boosting morale.
“When you’re shorthanded and folks are having to work overtime and everything, it takes away from their free time with their families,” Harrelson says. “Morale is extremely important because if morale is low, people don’t want to come to work. So part of my goal with staffing is also employee wellness and well-being.”
The CDA dispatches calls for Tallahassee police and fire departments, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, and Leon County Emergency Medical Services.
Dispatchers start at $14.67 an hour. They work nights, weekends, and holidays.
We sat down with Will Blanton, CDA communications training officer and 27-year veteran dispatcher, to find out what it’s like taking 911 calls twelve hours a day.
WFSU: How’s morale (at the CDA)?
BLANTON: Morale is down because of staffing and lots of overtime…A lot of people have decided to leave this career field. It’s not for everybody.
WFSU: You’ve talked about how a bad day for most people is every day for a dispatcher. Can you just talk a little bit about what a typical day would like?
BLANTON: Well, there is no typical day unfortunately because every day is completely different. Your first call of the morning could be an infant that has died; the mother has found that child deceased. Your next call that comes in could be a structure fire with bodies inside; traffic crashes with injuries.
You’re not just hearing, oh yes, there was a crash that happened. You’re listening to a person who was there who either was involved in it or the witness who just saw the construction truck hit the convertible with the 16-year-old driver that just got her license two days ago.
WFSU: What has kept you in this business for so long? Have you had days where you thought, there’s no way I can go back?
BLANTON: Yeah, without a doubt. There are calls that are going to stay with you. What’s kept me in the job? I like helping people.