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Council OKs new dispatcher reserve program

October 02, 2013

Dispatch Communications Director Debbie O’Farrell will head up Oxford Village’s new dispatcher reserve program. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
The Oxford Village Police Dept. is looking for a few good people to train as dispatchers for its new reserve program.

Last week, council voted 4-0 to approve the establishment of a 9-1-1 Dispatch Reserve Program, which would aid the village by giving it a force of trained volunteers to help staff its dispatch center.

The reserve dispatchers would allow the village to have a second dispatcher to handle calls whenever one was needed or desired. Presently, the center is manned by one dispatcher per shift.

However, Dispatch Communications Director Debbie O'Farrell made it clear to council these reserves would only be used to support existing dispatchers, not replace them.

"They will never work on their own," she said. "They will always work with a full-time or part-time dispatcher."

In order to become a reserve dispatcher, applicants would have to pass an oral interview as well as a background check and drug screening.

"Our goal is to hopefully get like 10 to 15 people to apply," O'Farrell said. "I have two right now and we haven't even advertised."

Applicants must also undergo 80 hours of state-required training, 24 hours of training for Emergency Fire Dispatch (EFD), 24 hours of training for Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) and about three months of in-house training at 20-30 hours per week.

EFD and EMD involve dispatchers asking callers a standardized set of questions about their emergency situation and providing instructions to them prior to the arrival of public safety personnel. In the case of a medical emergency, for example, EMD dispatchers give callers instructions related to CPR, choking and child birth.

Funding for insurance, uniforms and training materials for the new reserve program would come from a combination of state funds, potential grants and fees charged to employees from other agencies coming to Oxford to receive their state-requiring training and take classes in EFD and EMD.

O'Farrell would be the certified instructor for the state-mandated training and EFD/EMD classes.

"It'd be on my off-days that I would do the training," she said.

"I think it's very commendable that you want to do this with your off-time," said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth. "She's trained a lot of dispatchers for the village and they're either here or they've gone on to bigger and greater things. She's just quite a trainer."

Although they would receive no wages or benefits, reserve dispatchers will personally benefit from the program because they will receive "free career training" that makes them "marketable for a full-time dispatch job somewhere," O'Farrell told council.

As far as she knows, O'Farrell said there are no other dispatch centers in Michigan that have a reserve program. However, there are agencies in other states, such as California, that have them, she said.

Ultimately, O'Farrell sees the new reserve program as benefitting not only Oxford, but other dispatch centers as well.

She explained that due to new state standards for 9-1-1 centers, agencies can no longer use police officers as backup dispatchers. This change has left many centers "struggling with staffing levels."

Oxford's reserve program will provide them with a pool of trained and ready dispatchers to draw from, according to O'Farrell. This will help cut the training costs for outside agencies and save them a lot of time, she said.

It also saves other agencies time and money by not having to invest in people who think they want to be dispatchers, but then, as they go through the training, decide the job is not for them, according to O'Farrell.

Those interested in applying for the 9-1-1 Dispatch Reserve Program can pick up an application at the village police station located at 22 W. Burdick St.