OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - They are the heroes who don't often get mentioned in the news -- the 911 operators on the phone and behind a computer screen sending help to those in an emergency and Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson said the county is in desperate need for more unsung heroes.
"We are not fully staffed and we are trying to be that," Gibson said Thursday. "A lot of our dispatchers are older in their career, some have been here when I started in 1986 and they are starting to retire."
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The Osceola County Sheriff's Office is starting to recruit.
Right now, Gibson said the department has 13 open positions and that 86 communication operators are working double shifts and overtime to make sure they pick up every call.
"We don't want to break their backs so we want to get people in here to bring them in and get back to adequate staffing, or full staffing," Gibson said.
The department has begun recruiting in person in the community and online.
The sheriff also said they have made the salary competitive with other law enforcement agencies in the state, even though he does admit it doesn't pay much.
Gibson says starting operators will be paid about $28,000/ year and if they move up, can make up to $44,000/year.
That's on par with the state average of $27,788 a year to start, and $45,448 a year with more experience, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
"There are a lot of professions that are underpaid and overworked," Gibson said. "But with the [population] growth, the agency must grow and in order to be competitive to make sure we fairly compensate."
News 6 asked how the sheriff plans to sell a high-stress job that pays so low.
"The biggest thing is if you have the heart to serve. It's not for everybody," he said. "But it is rewarding."
That's what 911 operator Steve Gordon said. He's worked at the Osceola County Communication Center for 10 years now.
"There's nowhere else I'd rather be," Gordon said. "It's one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had. There are trying days, you can be doing CPR over the phone and the next minute deliver a child."
He said though there are tough days, what gets him through, is knowing he's helping save lives.
"You got to remember the community is counting on you, in their worse position, to be their rock," Gordon said.
For a list of criteria for the job or more information on applying, click here.
The sheriff said because of the demand, he's willing to bend the rules on some of the criteria. For example, applicants do not need to give a full 2-year commitment to the job and he's willing to hire someone with tattoos.
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