Houston Emergency Center employees working overtime to answer calls due to staff shortages

Courtney Carpenter Image
Friday, July 22, 2022
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"Houston 9-1-1 Do you need medical, police, or fire?" This phrase is being said by employees of the HEC who are working extra overtime shifts due to a huge shortage.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- "Houston 911 Do you need medical, police, or fire?"

Julio Ariciaga says this phrase repeatedly throughout the day as he works as a 911 call taker at the Houston Emergency Center. The problem is, there are not enough people doing what he does.

"Right now, we have about 140 call takers. But at the same time, we are about 35-40% down," Joe Laud, the Administration Manager for the Houston Emergency Center said.

ABC13 requested to find out exactly how many open positions there are. Based on those figures, the center is short 70 plus call takers right now.

So exactly how are the 911 calls being answered? The answer: the employees are having to work overtime.

"Although part of their criteria is to do overtime, we are having them do them more often to make sure that there is someone taking those calls," Laud explained

ABC13 has also inquired how the staffing shortage is impacting the call wait times.

Ray Hunt, the Houston Police Officers' Union executive director, said it is urgent to fill these dispatch and call taker positions.

"No doubt it's critical. If you don't have enough call takers, if you don't have enough dispatchers, then calls hold longer than they need to, and seconds count when you are talking about life and death situations," Hunt said.

Ariciaga says he has been working 12-hour shifts, five days a week, for the past six months.

"We are hoping it's going to be a temporary stint," Laud said.

Ariciaga says knowing he's helping is his motivation.

"I have a passion for helping others. So as long as I am helping others, as long as I am there for the citizens that need help at the time, it's what keeps me going," Ariciaga said.

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