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Overwhelmed With Work, Nation’s 911 Dispatchers Under Scrutiny

911 Dispatchers Under Fire After Several Troubling Incidents 2:20

Calls to 911 are often a matter of life and death.

And that’s why emergency dispatchers across the country are coming under scrutiny after several troubling incidents.

But a former dispatcher in Florida says there are more calls than dispatchers can handle, overworking those left to take critical lifesaving calls.

"I think that every, every law enforcement agency is facing limited resources and balancing the supply and demands between serving their community and living within the budget of tax payer money," said Brooklyn Stabile.

Police in Massachusetts recently discovered that a dispatcher hung up on a caller for speaking Spanish. And just a few weeks ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a dispatcher hung up on a distraught woman who was trying to help a 17-year-old, who later died.

Frustrated with the caller, that dispatcher, Matthew Sanchez, who had been with the Albuquerque Fire Department for 10 years, told her, "OK, you know what, ma’am? You can deal with yourself, I’m not going to deal with this."

Related: Albuquerque Dispatcher Who Hung Up on 911 Caller Resigns

The toll the job takes on even the most seasoned of veterans can be more than they can emotionally handle.

"You can only hear someone pull the trigger on the other side of that phone so many times before it affects you," said the former dispatcher Stabile. "I don’t care who you are or what your experience is."

When a police officer was shot and killed in Memphis last weekend, some 911 callers heard the generic answer machine saying, "All operators are busy, so please remain on the line."

Callers reporting the incident waited on hold for an average of more than two minutes.

Every year, there are an estimated 240 million calls to 911 across the U.S., according to the National Emergency Number Association, and the suggested standard to answer calls is 10 seconds — three rings.

"You got to remember every single person now carries a personal communications device," said Raymond Chiozza, director of the Shelby County 911 District, in Memphis, Tennessee. "With large incidents or something that happened, you’re never gonna be able to answer every call."

The use of 911 calls for non-emergency situations is also credited with wearing down operators.

Stabile says the answer to solving the issue of overworked dispatchers may be to invest in their mental health and well-being.

"Emergency responders need to practice better self care," she said. "And I think that law enforcement agencies and our communities need to invest in that in order to retain healthy emergency responders. That would reduce turnover and increase the psychological health overall of people that are giving their lives to this career on a daily basis."