Report: City moves to rehire former employees to curb shortage at Durham 911 call center

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – As Durham faces a shortage of 911 operator positions, the city manager said there’s a plan to rehire former employees to make sure the 911 call center is adequately staffed as 40 percent of its positions are vacant.

As CBS 17 has previously reported, the Durham 911 call center has had a shortage of 911 operators since December. Currently, 26 of 60 positions are vacant.

As a result, it doesn’t have enough operators to answer all of the 911 calls. About 10 percent of calls roll over to Raleigh-Wake 911.

A Durham 911 operator told CBS 17 that at times there are only two 911 operators answer calls at the center.

In a report released on Friday, Durham City Manager Wanda Page said that the city is hiring back retirees and former employees in a part-time capacity to ensure they have adequate staffing at all times.

The city also posted four full-time certified training officer positions that it hopes to fill as quickly as possible.

“With new staff coming on board in the coming weeks, we intend to wrap up our partnership with Raleigh and resume answering 100% of our calls,” Page said in the report.

The report did not say how many part-time positions are planned to be fill in the coming weeks.
William Towner, spokesperson for Professional Fire Fighters of Durham Local 668, said that the firefighter’s association is concerned that this issue will not be addressed in just a few weeks.

“It takes time to train these people, and they should’ve had academies beforehand,” Towner said.

In her report, Page also said a majority of 911 calls are answered in 10 seconds.

“The issue was not so much the time — that’s important — but it is the miscommunications and the wrong information we get when calls roll over to Raleigh,” Towner said.

He said sometimes firefighters will get the wrong addresses or information from Raleigh dispatchers.

CBS 17 obtained radio traffic from 911 one call where first responders were trying to locate a patient who had a breathing problem.

They were given the wrong number for the street, and it took a while for them to get connected with the call taker in Raleigh to get a correct address.

As a result, it took about 17 minutes for the first responders to locate the patient.

“It just really puts the residents of Durham in jeopardy if you don’t know what we’re responding to,” Towner said. “This really all could’ve been avoided if there was good planning to replace the people who were leaving. There has to be some resolution before someone does get hurt and before we lose a resident.”

Since Monday is a holiday, CBS 17 will reach out to city officials on Tuesday to find out how soon the new employees they plan to hire in the coming weeks will be answering 911 calls.

Right now, Raleigh Wake 911 answers about 1,900 calls a month from Durham.

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