ST. LOUIS ( -- If you call 9-1-1 in St. Louis for a car fire, a structure fire, or even a murder, there's a good chance you'll hear: "You've reached the City of St. Louis. All operators are busy at this time."

A spokesperson for Mayor Tishaura Jones said the administration is struggling to fill the necessary positions. News 4 reported in February that at some times of the day, 50% of 9-1-1 calls were being put on hold for more than 10 seconds.

At that time, the city was short 18 dispatchers. Now, the number has grown to 31, according to police. There are currently open positions for dispatchers, managers and supervisors.

"Apply for these jobs. They are open and available to folks who live in the city and want to work in the city," said Jones's spokesperson Nick Dunne.

The city has raised its starting pay to $15 per hour, and according to personnel, that figure is more than St. Charles and St. Louis counties pay their dispatchers.

"We have to take a look at our pay if we're going to try to retain our employees and recruit new ones," Jones said.

But the personnel department also said they have provided a of names of about 60 eligible candidates, but the police department has been slow to hire.

"That's something with communication between personnel and police, but we definitely want to expedite the hiring process as much as possible," Dunne said. "Because it is urgent that we fill these positions, especially 9-1-1 dispatchers."

Right now when residents dial 9-1-1, a police dispatcher answers the call, but based on the issue, the call can be diverted to the fire department or EMS. Fire dispatchers work near Cass and Jefferson, several blocks away from police dispatchers.

"It creates bottleneck effect," said Public Safety Director Dan Isom. "And it creates situations where citizens unfortunately have to be on hold for a number of minutes."

In October, the city hopes to move fire and police dispatchers into the same spo, eventually unifying them under the City Emergency Management Agency.

In the meantime, Dunne said even in an emergency, callers should remain on the line.

"The number one thing is, when you call 9-1-1, do not hang up," he said. "If you hang up, you will be resetting the system, so you will get there faster if you just hang on."

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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