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A nationwide 911 operator shortage has Milwaukee considering raising pay

Milwaukee County 911
Posted at 4:49 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 19:30:58-05

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee, the county and the country are struggling to find the people many of us count on to be on the other side of the phone in an emergency, the 911 operators. In order to try to hire more people to do the job, the city is asking the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission to raise salaries, in some cases by $15,000, in hopes of attracting more people to the job.

In Milwaukee County, Christopher McGowan, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Deputy Director, says they are nearly at full staff. But they have a problem keeping 911 operators.

“In the last year, we have gone through at least three hirings of new dispatchers,” said McGowan.

Milwaukee Couny OEM lead dispatcher Tekla Williams has seen a lot of people come and go from the job. She knows it takes a special person to handle the stress that comes with dealing with people in a crisis.

Milwaukee County 911 Center

“We are the first contact for that person. You get to thinking, you don’t get to stay on the line with the caller through the entire call. You just provide what you can provide for them until emergency personnel get on the scene, and it leaves you wondering what happens next,” said Williams.

The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) says before the pandemic, job vacancies at 911 dispatch centers were at 15 to 20 percent. Locally, in the city of Milwaukee, the vacancy rate is at 23 percent for the police 911 operators and 50 percent for the fire department, according to the Department of Employee Relations.

NENA 911 operations director April Heinze says pay is part of the reason they have trouble attracting or retaining workers.

Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management 911 Center Tekla Williams answers a call.

“Their pay and benefits at those levels, the pay and benefit levels are actually on par with other job industries that have far less stress, much more family friendly hours and the wages are much different,” said Heinze.

In the city, Milwaukee’s starting pay for a 911 dispatcher ranks 4th at $49,638 compared to surrounding municipalities, according to Department of Employee Relations. The pay ranks 10th for a 911 telecommunicator at $44,192. Milwaukee County comes in at 12th at $37,170.

Pay rates:

  • Racine County $58,406
  • Greenfield $50,981
  • West Milwaukee $49,899
  • Milwaukee (911 Dispatcher) $49,638
  • Wauwatosa $48,547
  • Waukesha County $45,445
  • Ozaukee County $45,386
  • Bayside $44,824
  • Oak Creek $44,283
  • Milwaukee (911 Telecommunicator) $44,192
  • Mequon $41,600
  • Milwaukee County $37,170

For Williams, it is a stressful and hard job, but she says you have to feel called to do it.

“This is something that I love to do, being the link between emergency personnel and the callers, being that voice of reason is something that I enjoy doing,” said Williams.

The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission is considering raising the minimum pay of 911 telecommunications by about $10,000 to $55,761 and 911 dispatchers by nearly $15,000 to $64,125.

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