COVID-19 outbreak causing staffing problems at Durham 911 center

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A COVID-19 outbreak has led to staffing shortages at Durham’s 911 call center.

The issue is a story CBS 17 reported in December. It’s meant some calls are now being answered by Raleigh’s 911 call center. The shortage started last month and continues.

A longtime firefighter and President of the Professional Firefighters of Durham, Jimie Wright, said it has created challenges. 

“It’s concerning to us, it should be concerning to them,” Wright said.

The director of the Durham Emergency Communications Center Randy Beeman called the assistance by Raleigh’s 911 call center seamless. 

“We know it’s not seamless. We see it on our end on the truck every day,” Wright said.

Wright has been a Durham firefighter for 21 years. 

Over the last months, he said he’s heard from several members, firefighters responding to wrong addresses or having incomplete information. 

“Our dispatchers don’t have any connection with whoever is calling which means they can’t figure out the address and then we’re forced trying to take a guess,” Wright explained. 

Wright showed CBS 17 emails he sent to city leaders, asking that issues be addressed. They responded with information but not solutions. 

CBS 17 took those concerns to Durham Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson. 

“We are returning staff on a rolling basis. Some staff have already returned this week,” Ferguson said.

He acknowledges the staffing issues and said firefighters and police officers are stepping up to help with dispatching calls. He said only 11% of all calls are being answered in Raleigh. 

“We crunch a lot of numbers to come up with our response times and I honestly think we should do more research before we agree to any conclusions that response times have changed at all,” Ferguson said.

But Wright said staffing at the 911 center is an ongoing problem and that response times for fire calls keep going up. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association Standards, 90% of calls are supposed to be processed in 64 seconds or less. In Durham, Wright said less than 18% of fire calls are handled in that time. 

“There is a minimum staffing level and you have to find a way to maintain it,” Wright said.

Ferguson couldn’t say how much longer Durham would require Raleigh’s assistance taking 911 calls.

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