'Severely understaffed:' SJFD looks to add to its Public Safety Dispatch team; here's how you can join

"We've been severely understaffed for quite some time. So it does definitely put a burden on the dispatchers who are already managing a very stressful job."
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- "Heroes Behind the Headsets" is how the San Jose Fire Department (SJFD) is describing its team of Public Safety Dispatchers (PSD).

On Monday, the first of the First Responders field emergency calls about the pandemic, protests, wildfires and much more. According to SJFD, their team is completing the task, all while being severely understaffed.

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SJFD recently released a recruitment video which explained its dispatchers answer more than 89,000 calls each year. As ABC7 News has learned, 2020 is not cutting those behind the headsets any breaks.

"This may have been the busiest fire season that we've seen in quite some time in terms of how early it started, how long it's lasted, and just overall how busy it's been within the center," SJFD PSD Jessica Stevens said.

Stevens is on the crew of 20, which serves 1.2-million residents around the clock.

"We've been severely understaffed for quite some time," Stevens shared. "So it does definitely put a burden on the dispatchers who are already managing a very stressful job."

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"On top of that, you're having to calculate things like your overtime, working on weekends, and working on holidays that maybe you weren't expecting to work on," she continued. "Being able to have more people join our team will help lessen that load on some of the dispatchers. So that people can spend more time with their friends and families and have more time out of work. You need a lot of downtime with this job, it's very stressful."

But, Stevens added, it's also very rewarding.

"There's a lot of rewards on the job. It's very nice how our department does incorporate us and the role that we play in peoples' emergencies," Stevens continued. "I would say that two of the biggest things are when we get to assist with CPR, and with childbirth over the phone."

She has now spent eight years with the department.

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"I had started dispatching with a private ambulance company back in 2005- that was more on a non-emergency scale. From there, I switched to getting my EMT license and working on an ambulance in the field," Stevens told ABC7 News. "I was doing both of those simultaneously. Then after that private ambulance company kind of went under, I switched to the position at San Jose Fire."

Currently, recruitment begins online. There is a minimum requirement of a high school diploma or GED equivalent, and interest.

"We really want to welcome people who feel that they could contribute something to a dispatch environment to come and work for us and help out with the overtime and help citizens," she told ABC7 News.

Supervising PSD Monica Alcantar Kirk explained she was a wedding coordinator before coming into public safety.

"When people talk about what they want to be when they grow up, you usually don't hear somebody say, 'I want to be a 911 dispatcher,'" Alcantar Kirk said.

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However, she's since dedicated 13 years to the job.

"I had no prior experience. That's what we find, even if you don't have any experience, this can be such a wonderful profession or a career for somebody because we do provide the training," she continued. "It does help to have the diverse backgrounds and be able to talk to all different walks of life and help anybody that calls in."

Alcantar Kirk added, "We have our city that is getting bigger by the year. We have Google coming in we have an influx of our population, and we need to make sure that we're growing right along with that. What we can do for the community, in order to do that, is bring in dispatchers, get them trained, so that they can go ahead and help our community with any 911 call or emergency that happens."

Alcantar Kirk is in charge of training, recruitment and quality assurance.

Regarding the current recruitment process, she added, "If you meet the minimum qualifications, you would be asked to do another online type of test with history and background."

From there, there are other qualifying tests that need to be administered before a formal interview.

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"So the whole process could take six to nine months before it would be a job offer," she told ABC7 News. "But it is so integral to the public safety system to have an essential 9-1-1 dispatcher be on our team, and then give them all the training that they need. So they can continue with their long career here."

PSD Stevens added, "If we have more people ready to answer those phones, we're going to be able to get to those calls faster. We're going to be able to send you resources faster, and not have to wait as long for that emergency. So it's a big deal."

It's also a big year for the fire department as it celebrates its 30th anniversary of SJFD establishing a dispatch center.

Additionally, in mid-September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1945, which recognized public safety dispatchers by reclassifying them as first responders.

"We are the first responders of the first responders," Stevens shared.

SJFD Public Information Officer Erica Ray said there are 20 dispatchers, two dispatchers in training, nine senior dispatchers, and eight positions the department is seeking to fill.

To access SJFD's Dispatch Recruitment webpage, click here.

For a Dispatch Recruitment Brochure, click here.
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