New program aims to retain, improve training for 911 dispatcher recruits

BALLWIN, MO - It is a stressful, intense job known for burnout and high turnover.

But it is also an important job. One that provides a direct link between police and those they are sent to protect and serve.

That is why St. Louis County is determined to make sure that its new dispatchers not only stay on the job but receive the best training possible.

The department has come up with a new introductory program for training recruits.

The Office of Emergency Communications recently launched a four-week Dispatcher Academy.

“It introduces them and warms them up to what they’re going to see for real,” St. Louis County Training Coordinator Chris Trittler said. “Dispatchers traditionally just sat next to each other, starting on Day 1. And we wanted to change that. To try to increase our success rate. So we decided to have a dispatcher academy to prepare them for what they’re going to see and hear on the radio.”

Stress on the job is one of the key issues that can hinder productivity and lead to high turnover.

“We’ve had a couple who have gone through a whole training program, and at the end, they would get their first very serious incident, and a couple of them just quit right there, because they had never faced that kind of stress before,” Trittler said.

The scenario is repeated at dispatch centers throughout the country. Dispatchers field hundreds of calls on a shift, many of them involving life-or-death situations.

Trippler said the objective of the program is to familiarize recruits with the equipment, the types of calls, and other elements of the job in a non-stress environment. Previously, recruits say next to a dispatcher and learned “on the job,” which would limit productivity and the ability to retain knowledge.

13 recruits are currently enrolled in the academy. They will take an exam Thursday, and if they pass, they will graduate Friday, with their shift beginning Sunday.

Trainee Kim Bruegenhemke, a dispatcher trainee from Wentzville, said the experience has been eye-opening.

“I definitely didn’t realize the amount of calls that they take here at St. Louis County. You’re literally on the phones, or dispatching for all of your shift,” she said.

But she added that she is willing to accept the challenge.

“It can be stressful. But very rewarding at the same time,” she said.

The St. Louis County Police Department is still hiring dispatchers. For more information and to complete an online application.