In a dimly lit room in the bowels of the Wailuku Police Station, five Maui Police Department (MPD) Emergency Service Dispatchers field an unending stream of incoming calls.
They sit at five different stations. At each station there are five different computer screens. The room buzzes, lights flash, different sound levels beep and hum, and from time to time, the sound morphs into a low siren-like tone to indicate the urgency of the incoming calls.
Each dispatcher is linked to virtually all other MPD functions, as well as the whole array of emergency services providers, including the U.S. Coast Guard, Maui County Civil Defense, emergency medical services, the airport and even the National Park Service.
The Maui Police Department is looking for Emergency Service Dispatchers who can handle the complexity and pressures of the job. To apply, go the Maui County Website.
The dispatchers not only work with their eyes and ears, they also speak and operate equipment with their hands and feet. And they do it all calmly and rapidly.
Of the over 30,000 calls a month received here, some 8,000 are 911 emergencies and another 23,000 concern other police functions for Maui County (except Molokai).
Even a routine traffic stop requires the dispatcher to rapidly operate at least seven different computer programs to verify registration, licensing, outstanding warrants and other police procedures as necessary.
The dispatch group is staffed 24/7 every day of the year by MPD civilian employees. In emergencies such as tsunamis or hurricane alerts, the group's size and functions can be expanded and tied in to other service providers.
According to Lt. James Fletcher, a 28-year MPD veteran who oversees this department, staffing continues to be a problem. The department has 39 authorized positions, but only 20 of those slots are currently filled. There are three new hires in training and just a few more applicants have made the first cut to be considered as potential dispatchers.
After a brief visit to the site, it's not hard to understand why the burnout rate is high. The training is long and difficult, and even those who perform well in the four-month classroom setting often do not last long in the second "hands-on" phase.
"This is a job that definitely takes a special kind of person," Fletcher said. "The person who can handle dispatch duties has to have technical aptitude as well as the ability to multitask at all times."
Some prospective dispatchers do well in training, but they can't handle the real work setting.
"The hardest part," Fletcher said, "is to deal with the emotional side of the job."
According to Fletcher, some people develop nightmares. At times, the calls may even touch their own personal lives.
"We had one dispatcher who took a 911 call only to find out it was her own house that was on fire with her own family in it, and she still had to finish her shift."
Observed one long-time dispatcher listening to Fletcher's remarks, "If you're going to survive, you have to leave it here when the shift is over."
"You never know who's going to work out until they're actually in the chair," Fletcher commented, "and then you still don't know how long they'll last."
Fletcher and other MPD brass are proud of this unit. They think it's the best in the state and rivals the best on the Mainland, too. Plans to expand and upgrade it are in the works. But at the moment, finding and training qualified personnel is a top MPD priority.
According to the current job posting, these vacancies are listed in the category "Administrative-Clerical" at the MPD and require exam number 2014-02. The status is "open" and starting salary is listed as $2,922 per month (SR 16). Additional details are available at the site, including where and how to apply.
The eligibility requirements state that applicants "shall be citizens, nationals, or permanent resident aliens of the United States, or eligible under federal law for unrestricted employment in the United States, and shall become residents of the state within 30 days after beginning their employment and as a condition of eligibility for continued employment. Upon hire, applicants are required to show proof of authorization to work in the United States."
New hires are also required to pass the Pre-Employment/Post Offer Drug Screening Test as well as the Pre-Employment/Post Offer Physical Examination. Cost for the physical examination is paid by the applicant.
Those interested in considering this difficult but exciting line of work will find the dispatch job openings listed on the Maui County Website: www.co.maui.hi.us/Jobs.aspx?UniqueId=78&From=All&CommunityJobs=False&JobID=Emergency-Services-Dispatcher-I-Shift-We-537.