Rolondo Garcia and Kim Bromley have been with Placer County Sheriff’s Dispatch for nearly a decade with good reason ” they love the job.
But with just four dispatchers manning a station with room for up to 12, there’s a critical staffing shortage in the department, Placer Sheriff’s Captain Jeff Granum said.
Current employees maintain that a career in dispatch is exciting, rewarding and sometimes stressful, but offers a path worth taking.
The county began a recruitment and application process this week to fill several open positions in both Tahoe and Auburn.
“For someone here locally trying to make a living, it’s got excellent benefits and stability,” Granum said.
Garcia has a background in theater and worked as a stagehand for several years before switching careers at 34. His new job proved a good fit.
“I was a big scanner-head. I listened to the radio all the time,” he said in between calls Friday.
Garcia said one benefit of working in a place like Tahoe is because emergency calls are sometimes infrequent, the dispatchers often have the time to assist detectives with research.
Plus, the dispatchers get to learn how calls turn out because of their tight-knit relationship with sheriff’s deputies.
“We’re just more involved in the cases,” he said.
Bromley is most attracted to the excitement of her work. She formerly worked for Squaw Valley Ski Corp. and the Squaw Valley Fire Department and transitioned into dispatch when she started a family.
“I like the challenge. Every time you pick up the phone, it’s something new. That’s what’s exciting for me. I like the search and rescue calls,” she said, while scanning four computer screens, entering data and answering questions simultaneously.
The variety of callers keeps dispatchers on their toes ” be it a woman who repeatedly calls 9-1-1 for weather updates, or the man who wanted to know whether or not a warrant was out for his arrest. It was. And they found him.
But sometimes calls are memorable for tragic reasons. Garcia and Bromley both recall the stress of helping a woman whose baby was mauled to death by the family dog.
Some people can’t cut it in dispatch for that very reason, they say.
Lisa Lindgren, who is currently training with Bromley, said she was first interested in dispatching for the pay and benefits. But, she knew the nature of the work suited her personality, too.
“I’m a nosy person, I can’t deny it,” she said.
“We’ve had trouble filling those seats,” Garcia said, pointing to empty stations in the dispatch center.
Whether it’s the price of housing or the stringent screening process, Garcia said the department has continued to face a declining number of qualified applicants. And because the Tahoe station cannot staff itself around the clock, calls now switch to the Auburn dispatch center after-hours.
“If someone has an accurate address, there really is no difference,” Granum said. But, it’s when callers use local slang that out-of-town dispatchers are challenged, he added.
The department is now trying to fill the open positions so calls can be answered locally.
Granum said the ideal dispatcher is a strong multitasker with good communication skills.
“The perfect person for the job would be someone like a waitress that knows how to deal with people and multitask,” he said.
Also, because of the different available shifts, employees can work around school or family schedules. And even snow sports, Granum joked.
“If someone was into skiing, they could work the night shift and be available in the daytime to ski,” he said.
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The Truckee Town Council has unanimously approved of a pilot program to remove snow on privately maintained paved trails in the area.