SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – When you need help the most, you count on a 911 dispatcher to answer your call, but those dispatchers are in short supply.

“As far as staffing 911 centers, I think the biggest issue right now is that it’s a 24-hour operation, we’re receiving hundreds of calls every day,” Roberto Lujan, Interim Director of the Regional Emergency Communications Center said.

In a normal year, the Santa Fe County RECC is supposed to have 50 911 dispatchers, but right now they only have 19. Their staff, including administration, is working extra to make sure every emergency call is answered.

“I have picked up graveyard shifts, picking up day shifts. It’s not only deterring us from our job duties as administrators and keeping our ACC functioning, but it’s also requiring our floor dispatch, which is even more important to work, 16-hour shifts very frequently, mandatory overtime, on-call overtime,” Lujan said.

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The center says COVID and people leaving for other agencies with better pay have them struggling to find dispatchers. They have been trying for months to fill those spots. But help is on the way. Last week the Santa Fe County Board of Commissioners approved pay raises for dispatchers, anywhere between 9 and 31% depending on seniority. There is also a recruitment incentive, a 2% increase based on your hourly pay per period for the first 22 paychecks. They’re also starting rapid hiring events.

“I believe that it’s gonna boost morale overall in the center, it’s going to help our current dispatchers, and encourage them to recruit people that they know that might be interested in these positions. So I expect to see a mass influx of applicants in the near future,” Lujan said.

Pay raises and job fairs have helped Bernalillo County and its dispatch center. They only have two openings right now to fill.

“This is the best position we have been in a long time,” Larry Gallegos, an Official with the county said. “But before COVID we were always looking but we started paying better and reaching out more to job fairs and stuff like that and we have done a very good job. People like the position and they’re staying. We have had some raises given in the last 4 or 5 years that’s very competitive so we’re not losing people. We’re one of the only public safety areas in town that’s not searching hard for people.”

The Santa Fe County rapid hiring events start July 21st and will be every Thursday till August 25th, located at the Human Resources and Risk Management Division (102 Grant Avenue) in Santa Fe. For more information, visit Santa Fe County’s Regional Emergency Communications Center page.