Montgomery County is facing a shortage of 911 dispatch workers, which is why county partners approached the College about six months ago with the idea of collaborating to address this staffing need, not just in the county but across the state, as older workers retire and create job vacancies. To help build the dispatcher workforce and fill this critical need, Montgomery College became the first college in Maryland to develop a course that trains prospective communicators.
“MC, along with subject matter experts Bill Ferretti and Jennifer Wack, partnered to create the first program of its kind, designed to grow talent and more than adequately prepare someone for a career path in public safety emergency communications,” said Sharon Maxwell, program director for MC’s Workforce Development & Continuing Education.
The five-part pilot course begins in September and runs until November. It includes the 911 Dispatch Academy, taught by Wack, who retired after 30 years of work in the dispatcher field. The course also includes certifications, such as CPR/AED, emergency medical, police, and fire dispatch. Though employment is not guaranteed, emergency dispatch applicants will have a leg up if they have completed the course and, most importantly, will better understand the job requirements.
I was thrilled that MC agreed to set up this class, the first of this kind in the state.
In life-changing moments often marked by tragedy, first responders risk their lives to save others. But behind the scenes, a key player has been working the incident before police, paramedics, or firefighters arrive at the scene. That person is the dispatcher, miles from the actual scene, fielding the 911 call from someone who might be experiencing a life or death situation.
The typical starting salary for a dispatcher position ranges between $41,000 and $67,000, with good opportunities for upward career mobility. The required qualification to enroll in the course is a high school diploma or a certificate of completion recognized in the state of Maryland.
Ferretti spoke candidly about the job’s challenges at a standing-room-only information session the College held earlier this summer. During the event, both he and Wack emphasized how fulfilling a dispatcher career it can be—especially on a day when they get to help save someone’s life.
Maryland Senator Cheryl Kagan, who represents District 17, has been working on this issue for the last five years.
“We need courageous people dedicated to public service and public safety, who are willing to work in a very stressful, demanding, and satisfying job,” Kagan said. “I was thrilled that MC agreed to set up this class, the first of this kind in the state. One of the great things about this class is that people will really be hands on. They will hear. They will visit. They will know what they’re getting into.”
In attendance for the information session was Sally Dacosta, a mother of young adult sons, and a healthcare professional. After the session, she was excited and ready to sign up for the course. “I am looking for something I can do that’s rewarding and challenging,” she said, “because I am up for it.”