Would increasing salaries for Durham 911 operators help retain more employees as the shortage continues?

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The city of Durham has one of the highest 911 operator vacancy rates in the Triangle, almost 40 percent of their operator positions are unfilled. 

Durham city officials told CBS 17 they are working to fill these vacancies, but in the last couple of weeks two more call taker positions have opened. 

Currently, there are 37 vacancies at the Durham Emergency Communications Center out of a total of 60 positions. 

CBS 17 has previously reported, the shortage of 911 operators in Durham over the last several months has led to some citizens having to wait longer on the phone before someone picks up. Some people tell CBS 17 they have had to call their friends who are police officers or firefighters to help them get an ambulance. 

After some of our stories have aired, CBS 17 has received emails from people asking if increasing the salary for 911 operators in Durham could help them recruit and retain more employees. 

Right now, the starting salary for a 911 operator in Durham is $38,147 which is the equivalent of $18.34 an hour. 

This means 911 call takers are making just under what Durham trash collectors ($18.35), bus drivers ($19.16), and senior lifeguards ($19.16) are making per hour. 

CBS 17 asked Mark-Anthony Middleton, Durham City councilman if 911 operators should get paid more money, considering the skill level needed and the stress of the job. 

“It’s incredibly taxing work, both emotionally and mentally,” Middleton said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be exposed to that as your regular job. But as compensation goes, Durham is doing pretty well.” 

CBS 17 reached out to a total of six counties in the Triangle, which includes Raleigh Wake ($37,133), Chatham ($36,554), Nash ($36,412), Cumberland ($35,605), and Johnston ($35,123) counties, and found that Durham pays the highest starting salary ($38,147) for operators out of these emergency communications departments. 

“When we’ve spoken to our 911 call takers, money is not the thing, it’s the emotional support and doing things to increase morale,” Middleton said. 

CBS 17 reached out to Durham city officials to see what they’re doing to improve morale at the Durham Emergency Communications Center (DECC).  

A city spokesperson told us late Wednesday that there are many reasons people leave jobs, and some of those reasons don’t involve morale. 

City officials said the DECC is making progress in their staffing, and they are preparing for another academy in mid-November that will include a class of 12 individuals.  

As CBS 17 reported on Friday, an open records request revealed that employees are now getting paid double time to work overtime. 

Also, an internal email sent to staff from the DECC directors encouraged employees to open up about the challenges in their job so they could make improvements where needed. 

When considering the high 911 call volume in Durham, CBS 17 asked Middleton again if raising the salary is something that could help. 

“It certainly is on the table for me but it’s important that we also create a workspace that Is psychologically and emotionally supportive,” Middleton said. 

Out of the six counties CBS 17 spoke to on Wednesday, Durham has the biggest shortage of 911 operators as only 62 percent of their positions are filled. 

In Cumberland County, 85 percent of their positions are filled, and in Chatham (92%), Johnston (92%), and Raleigh Wake (95%) more than 90 percent of their 911 operator positions are filled. 

In Nash County, their 911 director says they are staffed at 100 percent. 

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