When a 911 call is made in Kittitas County, whether that be for a medical emergency, a fire or the need for law enforcement presence, Kittcom directs the call to the appropriate public safety agency. But Kittcom, which serves 17 public safety agencies, is currently in a hiring crisis and is in need of new recruits.

Darlene Mainwaring remembers writing on a spiral notebook, recording 911 calls and later transcribing the details of those calls on a typewriter. She took the job as a dispatcher right after college, never expecting it would turn into a 29-year-long career and the current Director of Kittcom.

“We would go hours with no calls,” Mainwaring said. “Today, your call line just continues to go off.” Mainwaring explained to be fully staffed 14 positions need to be filled. At this time, Kittcom is currently operating with nine emergency services dispatchers, filling approximately one more position than half staffing.

Kittcom uses dispatchers from Grant County to fill in on their days off and local agencies like Kittitas County Hospital District 2 and Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue to keep up with the workload.

Mainwaring said the staffing crisis is not unique to Kittcom, it is also occurring at other dispatch centers within the state of Washington and nationwide. Mainwaring explained she has met with neighboring counties to discuss the causes of the staffing crisis and said the reasons are wide ranging.

According to Mainwaring, of the five dispatch agencies, three are experiencing a staffing crisis, two are fully staffed at this time, however, in the past few years Mainwaring said they have also felt the staffing shortage.

There are several factors that impact hiring and attracting people to the dispatch field. First, Mainwaring explained although she finds taking calls adrenaline-inducing, other people can’t handle the emotional pressure or can keep up with the pace. Dispatchers also don’t always get closure regarding the incidents they answer or get to see the end product — good or bad.

“It’s the stress that can impact you when you’re taking a call,” Mainwaring said. “The officer-involved shooting, it was very stressful for the whole county. But it’s also stressful for law enforcement, because it’s somebody you know, and it was also stressful for us, because we’re on the other end of the radio and managing what’s going on at the scene.”

Mainwaring further explained it takes a certain type of person to remain calm in a high-crisis moment, especially in a tight-knit community where it’s difficult not to have some form of connection to the person in crisis.

Mainwaring said Kittcom also looks for unique skills sets like multitasking and the ability to listen to two conversations at the same time as well as a schedule that is flexible for a job that must provide 24/7 services.

“Two percent of the world population can do what our dispatchers do as far as the multitasking, managing the stress and taking in all that information coming to you at one time and then being able to organize it quickly,” Mainwaring said. “How I look at it is we’re organizing chaos.”

Mainwaring said some people might see these requirements as restricting, but for those who can handle the calls it can be a rewarding life-long career of helping people. Mainwaring said the training is completed in six to nine months or more depending on candidates background, the hiring process takes up to six weeks to complete.

Pay and Benefits

Starting pay is $3,704 per month. New employees work 40 hours per week while training. After initial training is complete (from 7 to 10 months) employees change to a 42-hour workweek with automatic overtime and pay increase to $3,918, with additional raises per the Union contract with General Teamsters Local 760. Kittcom offers medical, dental and vision benefits for employees and their dependents.

In order to qualify

  • You cannot have any disqualifying criminal history or drug use.
  • Must be at least 21 years of age.
  • Must have a high school diploma or G.E.D.
  • Must have the ability to type at least 50 words per minute.
  • Must be able to work rotating shifts, weekends, holidays and widely varying hours during and after training.

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