PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — In an emergency, Shavonna Parker is often one of the first people to respond.
“We can go from an illegal parking call to a conversation with a downed person,” she said. “And I just love knowing that I was able to help that person in some way through that process.”
What do you want to know
- There are 911 dispatch openings in multiple Bay Area locations
- Pinellas County has 38 operator positions to fill, while Hillsborough has 32.
- St. Pete Police Dispatch Supervisor Brandie Ball says it takes a special kind of person to do this job
She is a St. Petersburg Police and Fire Dispatcher and one of hundreds of dispatchers who connect Tampa Bay residents to vital services every minute of every hour of every day. Parker has been answering the call for over seven years thanks in part to his big brother.
“Actually, my brother is in law enforcement,” she said. “So he kind of told me about the job. So when I went to see the description of it, that’s what intrigued me to just be to help people too.”
But recently, like many places across the country, the St. Petersburg Police Department is in need of more 911 operators. The department currently has 19 empty dispatcher seats to fill.
And the department is not alone.
Pinellas County has 38 operator positions to fill and Hillsborough has 32.
The Tampa Police Department is short of 19 dispatchers, and Clearwater Police have just hired four new dispatchers and are looking for three more. There are similar numbers in other counties in the state.
Some cite pandemic-induced early retirements as one of the causes.
St. Pete Police Dispatch Supervisor Brandie Ball said it takes a special kind of person to do the job.
“It’s hard work, hard work,” she said. “Shift work is tough, the type of work is tough and the training can be tough. We need empathetic people who will want to make a difference and will want to help people through some of the worst days of their lives. “
Parker said she’s helped a lot of people through their worst days and finds the job rewarding, but one of the biggest challenges is moving on after responding to a serious 911 call.
“You want to know – because you want to know, like, were they helped?” she said. we just have to move on to the next call and help the next person.
She is now helping the department recruit more candidates by appearing in videos on social media.
Department officials said they offered competitive salaries and a hiring bonus, which Jessell Fabra said was enough to get him through the door.
“Before that, I was a store manager for a T-Mobile franchise,” she said. “So I know how to deal with people.”
After six months of training, she will soon be ready to do the job on her own.
“Still learning how everything works and all that stuff, but honestly I really have nothing to complain about,” she said. “That’s how I expected it to be.”
And Parker said she thinks there are plenty of others who can help dispatchers help Tampa Bay.