AUSTIN (KXAN) — Help is wanted across central Texas for the people often called the first-first responders.
The Austin Police Department is trying to fill 20 openings at its emergency communications center. Twelve of those vacancies are for 911 operators, while the other eight are for police dispatchers.
“The jobs they do, both dispatcher and 911 operator, it’s very difficult,” Lt. Kenneth Murphy said. “It’s stressful. However, it’s also very rewarding.”
Murphy manages the emergency communications center for Austin police. He said 33 people this year have left their jobs for various reasons, like taking other opportunities with better pay or more regular schedules. But he said that number tracks in line with previous years.
“In fact, over the last 11 years,” Murphy said. “There’s only been one year that we’ve had fewer separations in one year, so we’re actually doing pretty good this year.”
He said finding replacements is harder right now because fewer people are looking for work given the low unemployment rate. Plus, applicants have to go through an extensive licensing process.
“They must meet all the same requirements as a police officer except they don’t have to pass a physical check,” Murphy explained. “They have to go through a background check. They have to go through a drug screening. Testing for the position is very hard. You have to be able to multitask. Your memory has to be spot-on. You have to type fast, so it’s difficult to find folks to meet the qualifications, meet the state standards by Texas to be licensed first, then to find someone who’s willing to work holidays and weekends and shift work.”
“In the current job market,” he added. “It’s very difficult.”
Austin police are also competing with a place like Williamson County.
The Emergency Communications Department there is currently working to fill 17 openings for telecommunicators. This fiscal year Williamson County increased the starting salary for those positions to more than $50,000 to attract and retain these needed workers.
Murphy said he’s unaware of any of his employees in Austin applying for jobs with Williamson County, and he said no one has left to go there either.
“If you have a servant’s heart, if you’re looking to help people, this is a good job to have,” he said.
Austin police told KXAN that they have more than a dozen people taking 911 calls at all times, adding that 99% of the time they answer within 10 seconds.
Texas now recognizes emergency response operators and emergency service dispatchers as first responders. The bill that passed during the last legislative session took effect on Sept. 1. The reclassification allows them to access benefits to help support their mental health.