vanessa-newVanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for and The Free Lance-Star.

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The voices on the end of 9-1-1 calls

April 9-14 has been designated as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week in Stafford. The Board of Supervisors presented a proclamation to some of the emergency communications staff last week.

Jack Cavalier presents a proclamation to Stafford's emergency communications staff Wednesday.

But, who are these “telecommunicators”? 

They are the voice that answers the phone when you call 9-1-1, when you need help, during your worst days. They are counselors, crisis managers, negotiators, and a calm voice during chaos. They support first responders in the sheriff’s office and fire and rescue department. They are the “unseen” first responders.

It’s not an easy job.

Since 2006, call volume has increased — 25 percent due to wireless (cell) phones, which increases the length of call time by 5 percent since no address is attached to a phone number. The center takes 305,000 calls per year.

Nearly one third of the 32-person emergency communications staff changes every year, mostly because of burnout from the high stress situations. And one in four new hires doesn’t complete the training process. The high-tech communications center in Stafford’s new public safety building has to be staffed around the clock. But there is not enough staff to ensure 24/7 supervision.

The number of sworn deputies has gone up by 27; the number of fire and rescue staff has gone up by 26. Zero dispatchers have been added since 2006. This all comes from information presented at Thursday’s public safety committee meeting by Carol Adams, Stafford’s emergency communications director. “We stretch our folks now so we’re able to keep staffing levels at a workable level,” she said.

Supervisors may consider earmarking $200,000 in the upcoming fiscal budget to create four Shift Supervisors positions, based on conversations at Thursday’s meeting. Sheriff Charles Jett said this would just be a “small bandaid,” but a first step to help the department.

“It really is a critical position,” Adams told the committee.