MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — When you need help in an emergency, you call 911. Dispatchers handle the fire and medical calls and when law enforcement is needed, those calls are transferred to the sheriff’s office or police department. 

However, some Tampa Bay-area agencies need help meeting the service calls because of vacancies.

“The deputy has been dispatched,” says Denise Lovett to a caller. She's a call-taker and supervisor for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Lovett knows those are comforting words to the person on the other line. She’s been handling calls from 911 for 33 years.

“When they call and it’s usually the worst day of their life, first time encountering law enforcement and needing help, being on this end providing that for them is very rewarding,” Lovett said.

But now it’s the call takers and radio dispatchers who are needing help. There are six vacancies out of 45 positions and while that might not sound like a lot, it is when it comes to workflow and efficiency.

“It’s a challenge for us. We never close in dispatch,” says Carrie Flynn, Director of Communications for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

When the department can’t meet the minimum number of seven public safety telecommunicators for each 12-hour shift, Flynn says they have to work extra hours.

“It wears on people to work an extra shift a day," Flynn said. "There could be delays in answering our calls for service if we’re short-handed can’t get to calls as quickly as we’d like to…maybe cut a phone call shorter than we would like to.”

Jennifer Weiss says she’s called on law enforcement when her home was broken into and says they responded right away.

“It’s very important to have immediate assistance,” she said.

How important is every second when someone is calling for help? Weiss says, “Oh every second is important -- that person could be threatening my life, stealing my property.”

The job requires rigorous training but above all, says Flynn, it requires a deep willing to help. 

“We’re looking for someone who has a strong desire a sense of duty to help others who is compassionate and empathetic,” Flynn said.

The job of public safety telecommunicator is a state-regulated position, requiring a license. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office does the training. The job pays between $31,000 and $48,000 a year.

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