ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. ( -- A nationwide shortage of 911 dispatchers is at levels not seen in recent memory, according to those within the profession.

Currently, St. Charles County, St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis and Jefferson County are seeking to fill dozens of 911 dispatcher positions.

In St. Charles County, 44 dispatchers is considered full staff, but director Jeff Smith said right now he has 28 dispatchers working full time and in need of 16 more.

"I don't think the average person understands exactly what they go through, all day long they are taking phone calls from people having the worst day of their lives," Smith said.

Smith said the job takes a special kind of person, who can function in a sometimes high-stress environment, work 12 hour shifts and rotate between dayshift and nightshift.

Last month, St. Charles County's Operations Center recorded nearly 13,000 calls, accounting for both law enforcement calls and medical calls. In doing so, the staff was able to respond to 99.2% of the incoming calls within 10 seconds.

"It really is beneficial when you know that you're done with a call and it's all said and done at the end of the day that you can look back and say I really did make a difference, I really did help people," said Pam Duke, a 911 dispatch supervisor. She's made it a 19 year career and said she's never seen an industry wide shortage similar to what's taking place now.

"Never in my career have I seen this," she said.

Smith said all new recruits go through training to become certified before fielding calls on their own. While starting pay in the county ranges from $20 to $22 per hour, Smith admits he has a lot to compete with.

"Not that we don't pay pretty well, but there are a lot of other jobs out there that pay as well and are not as stressful and not the crazy hours," he said.

While residents who call 911 in St. Charles County shouldn't expect to be put on hold, Smith said he's concerned if the shortage doesn't begin trending the other direction, it always remains a possibility.

"I just think it's really important for the public to realize this is real and this is not because 911 folks are not doing their job, it really is a personnel shortage," he said.

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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