Dispatcher shortage puts help on hold in Jacksonville; salaries increased

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When the seconds count, you expect 911 to answer. But a staffing shortage is putting help on hold for more than double the state standard.

Action News Jax has been investigating 911 ring times in Jacksonville for several months after Julie Franswick, a local mother, struggled to get through for medical help after more than a minute.

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“I was in shock. You always assume 911 is going to be there,” she said.

Since that story in April, wait times have continued to climb.

According to the latest data from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the average ring time in March was 16.54 seconds. In April, when Franswick needed help, it was 19.83.

New numbers show May’s average wait time was 22.68 seconds, and in June it ticked down about a second to 21.58, which is still more than double the 10-second state standard.

Brian Fontes, the CEO of the 911 Association, said it’s part of a national trend as communication centers struggle to recruit and retain employees.

“It’s a challenging job. Every call is unique in one way, shape or form. Every call can be a stressor,” Fontes said. “At some point, you just have to have a break from the job.”

Read: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry makes his final budget proposal presentation

According to JSO, there are currently 140 positions budgeted at the communications center. This year, there are 40 spots open.

Last year, there were 29 spots open. In 2020, there were 19 spots open — less than half the current number.

“This is a stressful job. This is a public safety service, and these individuals should be paid on par with other public safety services,” Fontes said.

The chief administrative officer for the city of Jacksonville said JSO’s budget this year included more money to increase the salary.

“Obviously, it’s one of the hardest jobs that you can have. So it’s a priority that you get good people and recruit and retain good people,” he said.

According to JSO’s website, dispatchers receive $44,000 annually. After one year on the job, they are eligible for a 5% pay increase. After three years of seniority, employees receive an 8% jump.

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