Shortage of 9-1-1 Operators

You pick up the phone, dial 9-1-1, but there is a shortage of the people who pick up those calls. 

From the second, operators answer the phone, they must be ready for anything. From a shooting to a house fire, there's never a guarantee the call won't be life-threatening. "The toughest call I've had is a 16 year old that shot himself and that was hard because his dad found him," says Celeste High, who's a 911 Operator at the Amarillo Police Department.

According to the 9-1-1 Dispatch Center for Potter and Randall county, that much stress adds to the reason why there is such a high turnover for emergency operators along with the pay not being competitive. Right now there are at least a dozen positions that need to be filled locally.

But for Celeste High, it's not about money or too much stress. "I've always actually wanted to be an officer and so this is the next best thing is be able to help the officers in what they do."

9-1-1 calls are transferred to either the Amarillo Police Department, Fire Department, Potter or Randall County Sheriff's Dispatch Centers depending on the type of call. The number of 9-1-1 calls made to the departments on a yearly average---more than 340-thousand calls.
9-1-1 calls dealing with fires come here to the Amarillo Fire Department dispatch center, where they have also seen their share of life  threatening emergency calls.

"You get the training, you get the calls, until you've gotten through enough of them, it's a new call every single time even though it could be the same thing over and over," says Patricia Baker, a 911 Operator for the Amarillo Fire Department.  Patricia Baker not only helps save lives over the phone but also fights fires.  Right now, she is one of the firefighters also working as a 9-1-1 operator but that will soon change.

After Thanksgiving, civilians will be hired to allow the firefighters to return to fighting fires.

The dispatch center wants to reassure you that despite the local shortage of operators, all Amarillo 9-1-1 calls are being covered and the public's safety is still protected.