Low morale in the heart of Chester 9-1-1 – Daily Local

WESTERN CHESTER – Center 9-1-1 The Chester County Department of Emergency Services is experiencing an unprecedented loss of emergency dispatchers, leaving a significant gap in the county’s public safety system and forcing the county to work hard to fill vacancies over the past few months.

Since January, a total of 13 telecoms – 9-1-1 staff – have taken emergency and non-emergency calls from the public and then sent police, fire or ambulances to resolve the situation – most of them top-level, county officials said. During the same period, only seven new employees were hired.

This situation, according to people in the district rapid response community, has made emergency workers on the street and in the control room concerned about the safety of those in a police patrol car, fire truck or ambulance, as well as those they serve.

“It’s life-threatening,” said one man who knows firsthand about the 9-1-1 personnel loss.

On Friday, a county spokeswoman said that of the 72 full-time positions at the 9-1-1 Center, there are currently 22 vacancies – an increase of two from the previous month. It was recently decided to repeal the Department’s three-year-old policy to abandon the use of part-time dispatchers and allow former staff members to return and work part-time to fill in the gaps.

“These employees have a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience and we are delighted that they are back,” said spokeswoman Rebecca Brain.

“Eventually, in the last three weeks, I’ve found resilient, passionate, and dedicated people who care about helping people,” said Bobby Kagel, a district administrator who took over the Department of Emergency Situations (SES) on a day-to-day basis. “And we are doing our best to get them the help they need.”

The county commissioners – Chair Marianne Muskowitz, Vice-Chair Josh Maxwell and Commissioner Michelle Kichline – declined to comment on the article.

The 9-1-1 Center always has a flow, Kagel said, and older, more experienced dispatchers are being replaced by those who lag behind them on the internship ladder. The current situation, however, has left a gap between senior and junior staff he has never observed before, he said.

Kagel, who served as director of DES from 2014 to 2018 and has more than two decades of experience managing the county for emergencies, said he has personally approached “good, qualified people who have decided to retire and leave (center ) for whatever reason there may be. I am shocked by the reaction of these people. “

But the environment in which they enter is one in which the morale of the staff is low, and which has contributed to the outflow of telecommunications, the blood of the center. Respondents of the MediaNews Group for the past three weeks have accused the DES of bad morale and an atmosphere of criticism and mistrust.

“They don’t care about the staff,” said one former telecom operator, Holly Drameler, who left the department in September after working there for 25 years. “There are never positive reviews, only insulting comments. Whenever there was a mistake, it was the fault of the man at the Center 9-1-1. There was no responsibility among the leadership. “

“I don’t think they understand how many problems there are,” said another telecomman who left the center this year after more than a decade of work and asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the conditions. which made him leave.

“There were no positive reviews,” the man said. “It was a joke. The feeling of having to juggle things for 12 hours a day really worsened morale. People just started jumping off the ship. During the whole time I was there I never saw anything like it.”

Concerns have been expressed about how the center is run, “swept under the rug,” Drameler said. “It’ll all just disappear.”

Another dispatcher also said the 9-1-1 Center had significant problems, with strange teaching methods, a lack of proper control over inexperienced telecoms and attempts to usurp police powers in emergency calls.

“They valued quantity over quality. You quickly saw a drop in production, and there were a lot of mistakes, ”the man said. “Inexperienced people were put in places where they should not have been put.”

Kagel said that after returning to DES on May 3, he listened to the staff and heard their concerns about the fact that the leadership felt a lack of support. “We have taken steps to fix this,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I believe some of the things we have done have improved morale there, but it will take a long time for sustainable results.

“Dedication and passion are still there,” he said among those employees who are still on duty. “This is ultimately what will lead to success. If not them, then we have nothing. Nothing.

Problems at DES became clear this month when news emerged that DES Director Michael Murphy was no longer working in the county. Brain said he had resigned from the post he held after Kagel’s departure, but did not name any reasons for the sudden transition. Both she and Kagel refused to discuss the situation, citing the district’s policy of not commenting on personnel issues.

Murphy was only one of the department heads responsible for the decline in morale, Drumler and others interviewed for the article said. Former head of the 9-1-1 center Ellen Pitman and director of operations George “Ba” Crowding are also quoted.

Murphy was interviewed about the situation over the phone both last week and the day before. Pittman did not answer phone calls to comment, while Crowding was unable to obtain comment.

The 23-year veteran DES Murphy dismissed the view that his management style contributed to the loss of morale at the Center 9-1-1, where he previously served as platoon commander.

“I totally disagree with that,” he said. “I believe that what you are hearing is not true. My managerial focus was on recruiting, maintaining, and improving morale. Every decision I made was for staff improvement (DES).

He said any problems would have arisen even before he took office, and have been exacerbated by the unique challenges the DES has faced over the past two years: the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic both at work and at home for staff. ; a series of climate events that taxed the county’s tax structure for emergencies; and the consequences of a “big resignation” when employees felt they were pushed to leave work for better pay and less problems.

Specifically addressing COVID’s concerns, Murphy said in an email that he “made difficult decisions to maintain the health and safety of all our employees and their families during COVID.

“The 9-1-1 Center is a critical operation,” he wrote. “We have never had an outbreak and had the lowest COVID scores of all the 9-1-1 regional centers. However, I understand that the isolation from the rest of the department, the lack of personal interaction and support to which they are accustomed, affect morale.

“I would again make difficult decisions to ensure people’s safety. We had countless employees, including 9-1-1 employees, thank you to me and our team for everything that has been done, ”he said. “We saved lives – that’s what we do and why we’re here. Despite his admiration for DES and pride in his accomplishments, Murphy declined to discuss the reason for his departure, saying he “legally cannot comment.

“I can’t talk much when it comes to my parting with the county,” he said. “I just want to make sure (people know) that I have dedicated 23 years of work to the county and the community. I don’t want to go into the details of what my separation looks like. “

Murphy also declined to discuss the specifics of his relationship with Tiffany Sowers, a former director of the county’s human resources department, who abruptly resigned on the same day as him, May 2nd.

The drummer and dispatcher, who left this year, said in an interview that at the 9-1-1 Center there is a belief that Murphy and Sowers have formed a personal relationship with each other, which has created an obstacle to resolving staffing issues.

During an exit interview, the retiring staff complained that they did not feel comfortable reporting their concerns about the center’s working conditions to the human resources department because of the relationship between the two department heads, Drameler said.

“It came down to the fact that we have ‘HR’ in our pockets,” said the second dispatcher. “We can’t complain to them.”

The drummer honestly admitted that she and Murphy had a personal relationship when they both worked at the Center 9-1-1. But she said her comments were not aimed at settling accounts with him. “It’s not a personal attack,” she said. “I’m doing it (speaking) for the people who still work there.”

Sowers, who was hired to run the county’s human resources department two years ago and last month announced a major overhaul of the county’s pay system, could not be reached for comment. As was the case with Murphy, county officials did not comment on her departure, except that she resigned immediately.

Asked about his relationship with Savers, Murphy declined to elaborate and said much of what was said was “rumors”.

“I will not comment on any personal relationships,” he said. “I have a lot of friends in the county and in the department, and sometimes it’s male friends, and sometimes women. Sometimes people can’t help but spread rumors. “

Kagel said he could not give a deadline if the department would fill in the gaps created by the recent outcome, but he hoped it could be met within the next six months. Telecommunications cannot be simply hired on Mondays, but on Tuesdays to be put behind the telephone service or dispatch; there is considerable training involved in bringing them up to speed. And yet there is a payment that, although increased under the new county plan, still lags behind other neighboring counties and states.

But he sought to reassure county residents that their safety and the safety of emergency services was safe.

“The reason why this public safety has not been violated is the men and women in this department,” he said.

To contact full-time writer Michael P. Relahan, call 610-696-1544.

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