Want a job that can save a life? 911 is hiring.

November 25, 2022

Want a job that can save a life? 911 is hiring.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

WEARE TOWNSHIP (Oceana County) — I’ll never forget Christmas Eve of 2015. It was a late December with no snow on the ground. In the late evening of Dec. 23, the winds started to pick up. Fire departments were getting dispatched out to downed power lines and trees. As a journalist, I monitor the emergency channels, and was having a difficult time sleeping since the pager was full of chatter. My wife, Becky, was restless as well and decided to wrap Christmas presents and start working on the upcoming day’s holiday meals, since she couldn’t sleep.

The day before, our youngest daughter, Sloane, who was 14-months-old, had had a fever. Becky had taken her to the doctor and we began a treatment of Tylenol to reduce the fever. As the night went on, and the winds increased, our daughter’s fever continued to rise. At one point, Becky checked on her and discovered that she was having a seizure. She immediately yelled for me and we called 911.

I spent 15 years as a firefighter and EMT and, at that point in my life, over 25 years as a journalist. I had seen and experienced all types of human tragedy. But, when that emergency is your own child, it takes the situation to a whole other level.

On the line with us at 911 was Pat Dancz, who, at that time, had been a 911 tele-communicator for 20 years. Pat’s calmness and professionalism, walked us through the emergency. I had known Pat and her voice, since Mason-Oceana 911 opened on Sept. 11, 1995, just a few months after I joined Scottville Fire Department. Pat stayed on the line until the ambulance and medical first responders arrived. Our journey that early morning continued as our daughter was transported by helicopter to Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids to be treated for a febrile seizure. While in most cases, the seizure lasts only a few minutes, hers lasted for over an hour, causing concern about possible brain damage. Today, she is a healthy and spunky 8-year-old who is excelling in the second grade and loves gymnastics. Pat Dancz and her teammates at Mason-Oceana 911 was our first line in saving our daughter’s life. Pat’s last shift at 911 ended this morning. She was one of the original Mason-Oceana 911 dispatchers and worked there for over 27 years.

Are you ready to help save a life? Mason-Oceana 911 is now hiring tele-communicators to work full time and part time.

Since it started in 1995, the emergency dispatch center has had a practice of hiring full-time tele-communicators from its pool of part-time employees. Over the last five years, however, that part-time pool has dwindled causing the dispatch center to now hire new full-time tele-communicators directly.

“There were times when we would advertise for part-time tele-communicators and we would get at least 80 applicants,” Ray Hasil, director of Mason-Oceana 911 said. “Over the last five years we have seen that drastically dwindle. The last time we put out a request to hire part-time help, we had about two or three applications.”

Connie Blaauw, executive assistant at 911, said that the trend of less people willing to work has been commonplace since the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been building up in the public safety industry for several years prior.

“I’m surprised that it’s taken this long to catch up to 911 centers,” Blaauw said.

Mason-Oceana 911 operates with three dispatchers (also known as tele-communicators) on duty 24 hours a day, which included 11 full-timers mixed with part-timers. The 911 board just recently approved an additional full time position.

Starting wages are $18.96 per hour. Tele-communicators work 12 hour shifts seven out of 14 days, which includes working five days one week and two days the next week. They work every other weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. After one year, they earn two weeks of vacation; after five years, three weeks, and after 10 years, four weeks. They also receive sick time and personal time.

“We are one of the very few public service agencies that still offers a pension,” Hasil said. “And, our pension account is very strong and should be around for a long time.”

Mason-Oceana 911 also offers a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan HSA healthcare plan, a healthcare savings account, and overtime or double-time on 12 holidays a year. Employees also qualify for early retirement with 15 years and at age 55.

Being a 911 dispatcher can be a very rewarding job. It can also be a stressful job.

“This isn’t the job that people think it is,” Hasil said. “We would recommend that anyone considering this job ask to come in and sit with a dispatcher for an hour or two and observe what the job entails.

“An emergency tele-communicator needs to be able to have the mental capacity to process the terrible things they hear in a healthy way. Often, when that phone rings, the dispatcher is talking to somebody who is having the worst day of their life. You hear a lot of terrible things. But, at the same time, you are also part of the effort to save lives and property. This dispatch center is full of stories with happy endings.”

Todd Myers, deputy director of Mason-Oceana 911, said every shift is different.

“This is the job for someone who doesn’t want to do the same thing every day. You get to help people in ways you could never imagine. There are certainly some bad calls, but there are also good calls. You also get to work with some truly amazing people in law enforcement, fire service and EMS.”

Hasil said the training for the emergency tele-communicator job is extensive. He said new personnel will spend four months sitting beside an experienced tele-communicator before they start working at their own station.

Though the current push is to hire full-time personnel, the 911 center is still in need of part-time tele-communicators as well. Those interested in both full-time and part-time are encouraged to apply.

To learn more, click here.

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