When it comes to emergency services, ‘it all begins here,’ says county 911 director

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Week is April 14-20. The week is set aside to honor 911 dispatchers, who “[act] as a critical lifeline to other first responders, these unsung everyday heroes are always there to answer the call.”

“It all begins here,” said Dale Blevins, Carter County 911 director, referencing the handling of the thousands of emergency calls 911 dispatchers get yearly.

Our county 911 service was started in 1994 and has grown from averaging just 28,000 calls a year for service to a present-day yearly total of approximately 112,000, explained Blevins. The emergency agency handles incoming and outgoing calls for all the county and city emergency and non-emergency services, such as police, fire and EMS.

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Blevins said that not every call is an emergency as they handle non-emergency calls as well. “During a typical day, we average during a 12-hour period, about 75 calls for service where we are actually dispatching somebody,” he said.

Carter County 911 started with answering calls with nothing more than pen, paper and rudimentary radio equipment. It has grown to match pace with technology to be considered an Enhanced 911 system (E911), which has the capability to automatically receive crucial life saving information, such as the name and address of landline callers, saving valuable time so the dispatcher can quickly ascertain the emergency nature of the call.

Blevins explained that E911 services are not currently available for cell phone users, but the agency can, in some cases, still determine the location of a mobile caller.

Texting to 911 is also not currently available in Carter County, but Blevins expects it to be in the future.

Carter County 911 is a component of the county but is regulated by the FCC and the state. According to Blevins, the state is responsible for funding the 911 service, and the amount of monies received to operate is an issue not often visited by state officials.

Blevins said that they sometimes receive a funding excess but not consistent enough to give raises or to stay competitive for skilled workers. “We are behind [other agencies] in this, so we have been asking for an increase in funding,” he added.

In a survey provided by Blevins, Carter County 911 dispatchers start at $10.90 an hour after being fully trained. This represents a wide gap in starting pay with some of its sister agencies, all of whom are subject to same state and FCC regulations, such as Bristol’s starting pay for newly hired dispatchers of $14.02 and Kingsport’s at maximum possible start pay of over $20 an hour.