Three weeks ago the 911 office in Eufaula faced an emergency of its own, one that had it on life support.
Two dispatchers resigned.
“We only had three certified dispatchers,” said Monty Grider, District 2 County Commissioner and chairman of the board.
A week later 911 Coordinator Matthew Hackler resigned.
For now, McIntosh County Emergency Director Leslie Phillips is acting coordinator.
The 911 Trust Authority is accepting applications for a permanent coordinator.
“I’ve been in this chair for two years in January and there has been a constant turnover of dispatchers,” Grider said.
Low pay, high stress and long hours is the formula for big turnover rates.
At $13.09 an hour, dispatchers frequently quit Eufaula for better paying jobs such as dispatching for the Muscogee Nation and counties where the pay is better.
“One went to Norman. Another went somewhere in Texas,” Grider said.
But resignations were not so close together in the past.
“It all came to a head,” Grider said. “It’s been brewing a long time.”
Eufaula was in a dilemma.
“I had to make a decision,” he said. Grider contacted Marcus Cunningham, with 911 in Checotah, Undersheriff Jared West and Checotah Police Chief Darren Glover.
“Jared and Darren saved us,” he said. “They got the ball rolling.”
Glover agreed to allow 911 calls in Eufaula to be transferred to Checotah.
“Checotah stepped up,” Grider said.
Initially the change was to be temporary, but it looks like it may be permanent.
Meanwhile, two new dispatchers with less than a month of service were hired.
One made a mistake – forgetting to call the rural fire department in the Sandy Bass Bay area at the same time the dispatcher called an ambulance.
“I worked for a rural fire department,” Kent Cunningham, of the Sandy Bass Bay community said at a recent meeting of the 911 Trust Authority. “If the emergency is more than 30 minutes (from an ambulance), the dispatcher will call the EMT (with the fire department) first because they can get there faster and have the victim ready to go by the time the ambulance gets there.
“(Monday night) a neighbor laid face down on her front porch for several minutes and the fire department wasn’t paged. The ambulance was the first to arrive. The ambulance went to three houses before getting to the right one.”
Cunningham said the dispatcher should have called the fire department first and then the ambulance in order to save time.
Grider said he was familiar with the case.
“It was a mistake by the dispatcher,” Grider said. “I’m not making excuses. For some reason or another the dispatcher didn’t call the fire department. He just forgot to dispatch the fire department.”
Other than that incident, Grider said he wasn’t aware of any problems caused by the 911 situation.
Amanda Vandiver, 911 Supervisor in Checotah, and Sheryl Monk are overseeing the transition of the Checotah 911 office, which is located at the Police Department.
They say it has been fairly smooth, although they are waiting for more equipment.
“But we are able to run things with what we have now,” Vandiver said.
The Checotah office has 13 dispatchers.
“But we are going to need more,” she said. “We have to determine what the need is.”
She said since the change has been made there haven’t been any problems.
“We’re just getting used to the call volume.”