Three years after intense public criticism of staffing shortages, low morale and insufficient training at Luzerne County’s 911 center, officials are heralding an announcement recognizing an achievement.
The center’s staff training and education program is now nationally accredited through the Association for Public-Safety Communications Officials — a distinction attained by only five other emergency communication centers in the state and 72 nationwide, officials said.
“We definitely have turned a corner,” said county 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans, who was promoted to oversee the emergency call center in 2014. “There are many positive things we’re doing to make it a better place and provide a better service.”
Accreditation shows an agency’s commitment to its citizens and public safety responders, association President Martha Carter said in a release posted on the 911 Facebook page.
“Effective initial training, as well as meaningful and timely continuing education, are paramount for public safety telecommunicators,” Carter said.
The center had to beef up and formalize training to ensure staffers are uniformly prepared to answer calls and dispatch crews, said Megan Hannon, a county 911 manager since 2015.
The process was grueling because the center had to convince the association its training sufficiently covered key areas, such as a comprehensive overview of the county’s geography and web of emergency responders, Hannon said.
The center processes calls for 178 police, fire and emergency medical service agencies in 76 municipalities countywide.
“This was no easy task, as it required a huge amount of dedication and tedious hard work in reviewing our policies, procedures and training curriculum,” county Manager C. David Pedri wrote Tuesday in an email to council members.
Criticism of the center erupted after emergency crews were dispatched to the wrong location in a May 2014 fatal blaze.
The union largely blamed staff turnover and the departure of experienced telecommunicators, saying the overall quality of dispatchers was “at an all-time low.” An October 2014 independent study highlighted the center’s 19 percent turnover rate, excessive mandatory overtime and challenges filling vacancies.
Council also formed a 911 inquiry committee that later issued recommendations for improvements.
“I don’t want to focus on the past, but it’s important to learn from history,” Rosencrans said Tuesday.
Pay increases council approved last year have helped stop the churning of staff at the center, which employs approximately 90, he said. The starting salary of 911 telecommunicators increased from $25,500 to $32,000.
Previously, at least 15 percent of new hires left before completing training, but now it’s rare for more than one or two to give up in each batch, he said.
“The retention is much better,” said Rosencrans. “Raising the starting salary helped attract a better candidate in our opinion, and the training program also is critical in their success.”
The center also has implemented a new countywide plan that reduces dispatch waits for emergency medical responders and continues its push for municipalities to change common street names to reduce confusion, said Rosencrans.
However, he stopped short of claiming the center would be problem-free.
“With everything we’re doing, I still won’t say we’re perfect,” Rosencrans said. “Anytime humans are involved, there will be mistakes.”