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911 Dispatchers Step to the Forefront

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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -

911 dispatchers are critical to the success of police officers and the lives of callers. The efficiency of a dispatcher can mean the difference between life and death.

But the face of a 911 dispatcher is usually a mystery. Today Fox 40 News met some of these faces behind the phones for National Public Safety Telecommunications Week.

Bill Frantz, a 911 dispatcher for 24 years, said work doesn't stop until clocking out.

“On busy days, like we had during some snowstorms, each of us is handling almost three calls per minute, for 12 hours straight." - Frantz, Broome County 911 dispatcher.

Michael Ballard is a Broome County Emergency Services supervisor, Bill's boss. He started out as a 911 dispatcher 25 years ago. Ballard said call volumes for the county have tripled in the last 20 years while staffing remained the same. He said research has shown he needs 63 people to staff operations efficiently 24-7, but they have 44. New technology helps, but the volume of calls pressure first responders. 

“No one sees our high stress, nor do they hear it, because our professionalism on the radio and on the phone can never change." - Frantz.

The types of calls have also changed. Ballard said they used to receive calls for bar fights and disturbances, but that these have increased 10-fold. Today, there are more calls for domestic incidents, drug overdoses (at one time averaging 1 overdose per day), shootings and robberies. Broome County's population has decreased by over 40,000 throughout the years, but call volumes are up despite people moving away.

"It's more of a change in culture, the population isn't growing here." - Ballard.

Ballard's team doesn't have the luxuries of a two-tier emergency calling center, where there are staff answering calls and a separate staff for dispatch. Broome has a one-tier dispatch center - where radio dispatchers also take 911 calls. 

"We have dispatchers who in reality should be focused on that radio channel and only that radio channel. But in our system, they're also on the phone." - Ballard.

Often a highly stressful job, they rarely get to know the outcome of their calls. Frantz said they don't usually get closure after leaving for the day, but like to know that they tried the best they could to help.

“Everybody who does this job has compassion for people. If they didn't care about others, they wouldn't be in this job." - Frantz.