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Scheduling, overtime under scrutiny at Jefferson County 911 dispatch

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A debate about staffing at the Jefferson County dispatch center has broadened into a discussion about scheduling and best practices at the center, where call volumes have increased and employees say they are overworked.

Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, chairman of the board’s General Services Committee, said there are still several unanswered questions about the issue.

“This isn’t a finger-pointing exercise. We need to work together — legislators, administration, management of dispatchers — and really scrutinize how we’re managing shifts,” Mr. Reed said. “We need to evaluate how employees are currently being utilized and make adjustments based on historical evidence of call volume to make sure we’re making the best use of our assets and employees.”

According to a document presented to legislators by County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III, the number of overtime hours accumulated by the 24 dispatchers who work at the center this year ranges from 40.25 hours to 348.75 hours.

Though the apportionment of hours is based on seniority — dispatchers who have worked at the center the longest get to sign up first — the amount of overtime worked this year varies widely among the employees.

For instance, the highest number of overtime hours, 348.75, belongs to an employee who has been with the center for 26 years, but the second highest number, 206.75, belongs to a dispatcher who has only four years of service.

Mr. Reed is questioning why there is so much variation in the overtime hours worked by dispatchers. He is also asking why briefing time, which averages 1.01 hours per week according to Mr. Hagemann, is considered an overtime assignment when it is a routine part of a shift.

“Is overtime necessary for briefing?” Mr. Reed said.

According to Mr. Hagemann’s report, the amount of overtime averaged per dispatcher per week is 4.14 hours.

The dispatch center, which is part of the Fire and Emergency Management Department, is under the direction of Joseph D. Plummer.

According to a memo from Mr. Plummer included with Mr. Hagemann’s report, minimum staffing at the center consists of four dispatchers and one senior dispatcher per shift.

Charts included with the report show a fluctuation in computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, events based on the time of day.

According to the data, event volume peaks in midafternoon and falls off toward evening with the exception of Friday and Saturday nights, when it remains high.

The lowest frequency of CAD events for all days comes between 4 and 6 a.m.

Both Mr. Plummer and Mr. Hagemann said Monday night that they would examine the possibility of staffing the center according to event volume, but those discussions apparently are in the preliminary stages.

“There are some things to look at there,” Mr. Plummer said. “But the problem is, it doesn’t matter the time of day; an emergency is going to happen.”

Mr. Plummer said that each CAD event does not account for the number of calls related to that event that dispatchers may receive. During certain events, dispatchers can receive five to 10 calls or more, Mr. Plummer said.

He initially had asked for three additional dispatchers during a discussion about the county’s 2014 budget in October. The budget was extremely tight this year, however, and members of the Finance and Rules Committee instead proposed the addition of only one dispatcher halfway through 2014.

But after Legislator Michael W. Behling, R-Adams, pushed legislators to try to find additional funding to hire all three dispatchers, the board reached a compromise by borrowing money from other departments to move the start date for the new dispatcher up by six months.

Most legislators who heard the proposal during the Finance and Rules Committee meeting Monday night said they agreed with it. The committee endorsed it unanimously.

But Legislator Robert J. Thomas, R-Glen Park, urged legislators to reconsider Mr. Plummer’s original proposal.

“From the time that the call comes to the dispatch center there can be no mistakes,” Mr. Thomas said. “They’re not asking for a raise; they’re asking for the people and equipment to do the job that you may need someday.”

Mr. Reed said that he approved of Monday night’s compromise but that the county still had more research to do before more dispatchers are hired.

“Are we using best practices in this industry that we can find to alleviate the overtime for some people?” Mr. Reed said. “That’s the charge we’re laying to administration and dispatch. Have we looked at what private businesses or other municipalities are doing? We owe that to employees and taxpayers.”

dispatcher overtime/years of service
The following are overtime hours during 2013 for Jefferson County dispatchers according to their years of service.
Dispatcher Hours Years
Dispatcher 1 119.75 2
Dispatcher 2 206.75 4
Dispatcher 3 74.50 5
Dispatcher 4 82.25 5
Dispatcher 5 135.25 5
Dispatcher 6 178.75 6
Dispatcher 7 142.75 6
Dispatcher 8 87.5 6
Dispatcher 9 51.75 7
Dispatcher 10 109.5 7
Dispatcher 11 161.5 7
Dispatcher 12 152.5 7
Dispatcher 13 98 8
Dispatcher 14 127.5 8
Dispatcher 15 72.75 10
Dispatcher 16 40.25 10
Dispatcher 17 70.75 12
Dispatcher 18 156 15
Dispatcher 19 54 17
Dispatcher 20 88.75 22
Dispatcher 21 121.75 25
Dispatcher 22 188.25 26
Dispatcher 23 168.75 26
Dispatcher 24 348.75 26
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