Dispatchers say money-saving efforts are jeopardizing safety - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Dispatchers say money-saving efforts are jeopardizing public safety

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TOLLAND, CT (WFSB) -

A move to consolidate 911 dispatch centers for the Connecticut State Police is supposed to save money.

However, some first responders told Eyewitness News it's putting your safety in jeopardy when you dial 911.

Dispatchers said they are overtired and overworked. In some cases, they have been forced to work 17 to 18 hours per day for six days in a row. They added they're drinking a lot of coffee to stay awake.

The state admitted it's shorthanded, but maintains the consolidation is not impacting public safety.

For the past 15 years, Scott Owens has been a state police dispatcher in Tolland.

"I like to help the public," Owens said. "It's a good job."

Owens said it's what he and fellow dispatchers aren't getting that they say is making their ability to respond to emergencies harder.

"It's tough. You're fatigued," Owens said. "Your eyes are fatigued from looking at the screen. You're not as sharp as you should be. Calls seem to roll into one another."

Owens said he hasn't seen his children or wife much in the months since the state decided to consolidate multiple state troop barracks.

"Once the consolidation happened, it's not the same," Owens said. "We're not providing the same level of service we were previous to the consolidation."

Last year, the state police started merging troops. It started in the western part of the state when two troops merged into Troop L in Litchfield.

Soon thereafter, troops based in Hartford and Bradley International Airport combined.

In October, three state police troops in the eastern part of Connecticut, including one in Danielson, are all merging into Troop C in Tolland. That's where the union said there have been problems.

"One of our dispatchers was traveling home and fell asleep," said Larry Dorman, who is the public affairs coordinator for Council 4 AFSCME, which represents the 75 state police dispatchers.

"Quite often, you're held over your shift without notice," Owens said. "You're working 16, 17 hours a day. You could be working up to six doubles a week."

Owens said that in some instances, dispatchers, who were overtired or unfamiliar with the new territory, have sent state troopers to the wrong address, making the public wait even longer for help.

"I absolutely think it is," Owens said when asked if there is a disaster waiting to happen.

Connecticut State Police Lt. J, Paul Vance said there are not enough dispatchers to handle the calls.

"We certainly never do," Vance said. "We don't have enough personnel to handle many of the things we do."

Vance said while the consolidation hasn't been as smooth as they'd hoped, people are still safe.

"With anything new, there are minor bumps in the road, but we have not at any time impacted public safety," Vance said

According to Vance, consolidation has helped dispatchers do their jobs more efficiently.

"We now have a team of dispatchers that work together," Vance said. "In addition, there's now a lead dispatcher that oversees that team."

So far, Vance said they haven't received a formal complaint about overworked dispatchers.

Council 4 AFSCME told Eyewitness News it has informed state police about the issues, and if things don't improve soon, they plan to file a formal grievance.

"You can't expect people to work double shifts five or six days a week and expect good results," Dorman said.

State police said to alleviate the problem, they are training a new class of dispatchers. They will be ready sometime next year.

However, Council 4 AFSCME said it believes that's not soon enough, and there still won't be enough dispatchers to meet demand.

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