RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A former 911 dispatcher for Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications is speaking out.

She told CBS 17 she’s concerned with the lack of staff available to answer calls from people in the community in the middle of emergencies.

Those unanswered calls could be the difference between life and death.

“My brother-in-law tried to call last week. It ran 15 times before he hung up,” said Beth Fulks.

That’s not what people expect when they dial 911.

But she said that’s what people in Wake County may get right now.

“There’s a good chance if you call 911, you’re not going to get an answer,” said Fulks.

Her last day as a dispatcher with Raleigh-Wake 911 was on Sunday.

Fulks told CBS 17 that after six years – she’s fed up and concerned.

“Fourteen is the minimum staffing. Last weekend, we had eight people most of the weekend. Eight to 10 people some shifts. Phones were ringing off the hook,” she said.

Folks explained that staff has been forgoing any meal breaks during their 12-hour shifts to help answer calls, due to the staffing shortage.

“We had four people on Sunday,” she said. “We counted last week and 25 people have left in 2022. And we’ve added two.”

City leaders told CBS 17 there are 37 open dispatcher positions right now.

Fulks believes part of the reason is the low pay.

On the City of Raleigh website, the starting salary for an “Emergency Communications Call Taker” is $37,133 a year.

However, that will go up a little, after City Council approved a slight pay increase during Monday’s meeting.

“You can go to Cary and their starting wage is $46[thousand],” said Fulks. “They need to do a 10 percent [raise] across the board.”

Fulks said there are people training in the academy right now, but that’s not a guarantee the department will be fully staffed in the next couple of months.

“People are getting burned out. It’s getting harder and harder. We’re just not getting as many people from the academy that we used to,” she explained. “We used to start with 12 and maybe six would get through. Now, our academies have two or three getting through.”

Fulks is worried what will happen if things don’t change soon.

“With the staffing issues, there’s a good chance something bad is going to happen. If we have a major event here, whether it’s a fire or a weather event – anything like that, we don’t have the capabilities to keep on top of it,” she said.

Already, there’s been an impact with the staffing shortage.

According to the National Emergency Number Association, 90 percent of all emergency calls should be answered within 10 seconds.

For Raleigh-Wake Communications, that’s not happening.

In May, 78 percent of calls were answered within 10 seconds.

In April, 86.9 percent of emergency calls were answered within 10 seconds.

The Director of Emergency Communications provided this statement to CBS17:

“The safety of the public is always the primary mission of the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Department. Our department, like many across the country, continues to manage staffing challenges consistent with industry trends. We are working to aggressively recruit strong, qualified candidates.
As we have seen throughout the United States, from Oregon to Kansas to North Carolina, these issues are not unique to Raleigh. However, we will continue to find ways to reward employees and maintain the high level of service the residents of Raleigh have come to expect from us.”