Sunday, April 14, 2024

Warren County 911 Dispatchers Reach 2nd Month with No Contract

Photo credit, Warren County Department of Public Safety. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 02/2004.

Warren County 911 dispatchers are nearing the end of their second month working with no contract.

The dispatchers, who work for the Warren County Department of Public Safety, provide emergency dispatch services for 22 municipalities, including 22 fire departments, 12 emergency medical service agencies, and 10 municipal police departments. Currently the 19 full-time and six part-time staff cover 12-hour shifts with five to six dispatchers working on a rotating basis. 

“We dispatch for all of Warren County for all emergency service, fire and police other than jurisdictions covered by State Police,” said dispatcher Melanie Curreri, who is on the negotiating team for the contract.

Originally covered by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the dispatchers broke off to make a smaller local, the AFSCME 3287A, to better accommodate the unique needs of dispatchers. 

Curreri, who also volunteers as a firefighter for Blairstown Hose Co. No. 1 alongside her husband and son, said, “We’re one of the few 24/7 services out here. We’re there every day of the week working 12-hour days. We all love the job, but we need to be paid fairly.”

As the public’s first point of contact in emergencies, the job can be stressful. According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), studies show that 911 dispatch departments see a 15 to 20% rate of staff turnover due to stress and low pay.

Warren County is no different, seeing around 40 dispatchers come and go over the past three years. To combat turnover, the local has proposed several ways to retain the current staff and attract new quality candidates, including an additional category of paid time off to be utilized specifically as mental health days. 

“We work in a fast-paced, high-stress environment,” Curreri pointed out. “There are times when we need a day or two to regroup to ensure when we return to work, we are ready to handle the next emergency.”

Currently, the dispatchers are required to utilize sick time which sometimes demands a doctor’s note to return.

Ideally, full staff for Warren County would be seven to eight dispatchers per shift. Working with only five to six per shift combined with part-timers having limited availability due to other jobs, has led to additional overtime, being on call when not scheduled and working mandatory shifts to ensure someone will be there to pick up a 911 call.

Having a calm, collected voice on the other end of a 911 call for help is of the utmost importance to the dispatchers, as many of them, like Curreri, also volunteer as emergency responders in their communities.

 “We’re there for everything, we work every holiday. When someone dials 911, we have to be there,” said dispatcher Mary Schutts.

“After several months of bargaining with Warren County administrators, there has been little progress in securing a fair and equitable contract,” said Curreri. “We have days where multiple major incidents are going on in the county and it is the entire county that we cover. There’s typically six of us doing it and we’re working every day,” said Curreri.

The Ridge View Echo reached out to the Warren County administrator’s office which stated their policy is not to comment on active negotiations with employee bargaining units.

Photo Credit, Warren County Department of Public Safety
Cybele Tamulonis
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer

Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.