In an effort to alleviate the problem of training and retaining 911 dispatchers, Cuyahoga Community College has begun a program at the request of the city of Strongsville.
"We've had a constant issue of having and maintaining a workforce of qualified dispatchers to be able to man our dispatch center," said Steve Kilo, director of human resources for the city of Strongsville.
Strongsville operates a regional 911 dispatch center, which includes the cities of Berea, North Royalton and Olmsted Falls.
Kilo said he has lost more than half of the center's dispatchers in the last two years. Many come from smaller cities with little knowledge of how to handle sophisticated computer systems and high call volumes.
"They didn't realize how stressful it could be, how overwhelming it could be," he added.
Kilo said the center's dispatchers receive training after they get hired but he started to realize the need for outside training prior to their start dates.
"They're going to come in here with knowledge," said Kilo who added that training ahead of time allows prospective dispatchers to decide if it's a career they want.
Kilo asked Cuyahoga Community College to start a 911 dispatcher training program, and on November 28, it did.
The five-week program in Parma includes classroom and hands-on instruction to prepare dispatchers to handle police, fire and emergency medical calls. '
"As a dispatcher, you have to take control, and that's what this class teaches you," said Tammy Sheets, a student of the program and a former emergency medical technician.
Sheets is participating in the program prior to starting as a dispatcher at the regional call center in Strongsville.
"I think the fact that we can make such a difference or impact or possibly save a life is huge, and it's rewarding," she added.
Graduates receive two professional dispatching certifications upon completion of the program. The college plans to offer a second session of classes in the spring.
Kilo said the average salary of a dispatcher is $50,000.