DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – As 2021 comes to a close, almost half of the full-time 911 operator positions at the Durham Emergency Communication Center (DECC) are vacant, which is almost the same number of vacancies the center had one year ago.
According to the city’s website, there are currently 28 call taker vacancies out of 60 positions.
While almost 85 percent of 911 calls in Durham were answered in 15 seconds or less in November, more than 3,400 calls were not picked up within 15 seconds and more than 600 calls were not answered within 1 minute.
Brandon Rich told the city council during the Dec. 9 work session that he had tried to call 911 on Nov. 10 when he cut his arm with a broken mirror. He said no one picked up immediately.
“I waited 47.8 seconds for 911 to answer,” Rich said.
He said when no one answered immediately, he gave up and asked his neighbor to take him to the hospital.
“I felt like my city and elected leaders have failed me, and I think about the thousands of others put in the situation with even more life-threatening situations than me,” Rich said.
When CBS 17 broke the story almost a year ago, Director Randy Beeman said in January 2021 that there were 30 operator vacancies.
The number of vacancies throughout the year hovered between 21 and 30 and recently there were 23 vacancies that we reported on Nov. 16.
But the number of 911 call taker vacancies climbed back up to 28 as of Dec. 23.
CBS 17 asked the city what was behind the recent rise in vacancies and a spokesperson said in an email the vacancies are the result of employees leaving or trainees unable to complete the training program.
One employee of the Durham Emergency Communication Center who did not want to be identified told CBS 17 there have been some long-term employees who have left because they are feeling overworked and fatigued because they have had to be on call and work overtime to make sure shifts are covered.
A spokesperson for the Professional Firefighters of Durham, IAFF Local 668, said that at times there are two firefighters now having to help dispatch calls at a time at the center when before it was just one firefighter at a time.
A city spokesperson said Tuesday they do have seven trainees who will finish the training program in late January and another 12 trainees will begin the program in February.
The city said they do have 15 part-time employees at the DECC and their assistance is often utilized for answering 911 calls.
In early December, Mayor Elaine O’Neal announced that the city is partnering with Durham Tech to start a 911 academy to help get the vacant 911 operator positions filled.
Nathan Hardin, a spokesperson for Durham Tech, told CBS 17 the academy will start in mid-Spring, they will be able to train 15 individuals at a time and the academy will take less than two months to complete.