Three former Oak Lawn 911 dispatchers have come forward raising questions about the current operations, the work conditions, the staffing, the lack of training and providing detailed explanations on why the privatization idea was doomed to fail from the beginning.
Over one year ago, the Village of Oak Lawn’s Mayor and Village Board, by a 4-2 vote, fired 20 unionized village employees and contracted with a private company to handle 911 Emergency Dispatch services for the village and its customers. Since that time, the Oak Lawn Leaf has reported on numerous stories of mistakes made by the new dispatchers who were hired by the private company.
The biggest known mistake was a failure of the dispatchers to send any ambulance to the 95th and Cicero fatal crash for seven minutes. Recently, a family complained that an ambulance was not dispatched to their home as a family member was suffering a heart attack. That story has not been made public yet and the individuals have not yet contacted the media, including the Oak Lawn Leaf, with their story.
Yesterday, the Oak Lawn Leaf revealed that an anonymous letter delivered to village officials and discarded was written by former 911 dispatcher Staci Serapin, who worked both as a unionized employee of the village and was retained by Norcomm when the village contracted with the company. Now, other dispatchers are coming forward to explain what they call “a gigantic difference in training” and how it is affecting the operation.
The problem according to Dispatcher A is that the dispatchers are poorly trained and overworked. When the village fired the 20 unionized dispatchers, all 20 were trained in a program that they all said took six to nine months to complete.
According to the dispatchers, who asked not to be identified because of a fear of retribution from Mayor Sandra Bury, the firing and rehiring of only five individuals left the staff “unprepared” to train new dispatchers.
According to Dispatcher B, the typical training as Village employees would begin with new dispatchers only “taking calls” and not dispatching fire or police for one or two months. The trainee, under the old system, would work directly with a trainer and would not move on to the next phase until mastering the “call taking” portion. Some would move within one month but some may take longer. It was in this phase that the trainers would be able to determine if a dispatcher was “going to be able to make it.”
The new trainees would then advance to the second phase where they would learn how to dispatch police calls. The dispatchers all agreed that police dispatching is difficult because the dispatcher has to be trained on the nuances of each police department that the 911 center serves. They have to know which squads are available, where they are, how they respond and what specialty has to be dispatched based on the call.
After mastering the police dispatching, the trainee was allowed to move on to the fire dispatching which is considered the most difficult because of the various pieces of equipment that must be dispatched. Each of the dispatchers said that during the six to nine month training period, a “trainer” would sit with the trainee making observations and documenting those observations in a Daily Observation Report (DOR). Norcomm continued that practice at first but stopped doing it early into the contract.
Serapin went out of her way to say that the individual dispatchers are not to blame. However, other former dispatchers said that some of the problems that have arisen are based on dispatchers assuming facts. “It is a problem when you don’t know the difference between Central Park and Central Avenue, or you assume that when the caller says it is McDonald’s it is in Oak Lawn and not Evergreen Park,” said one dispatcher.
All the dispatchers agreed that there is a “gigantic difference in training” and the switch was doomed from the start without dispatchers having enough training. “Anyone that thinks the training is the same as it was when we were village employees is uninformed or lying,” said one dispatcher.
Despite the mounting evidence of mistakes, the Village has remained silent on the issues until today when it issued an invitation to residents to “tour” the 911 Emergency Communications Center. The village has refused to conduct an audit of the contract or hold a public hearing.