911 dispatchers in Tucson receive more than 1 million calls a year, with the goal to answer 90% of them within 15 seconds.

Right now, they’re at 83%. To hit their target, hiring and retaining dispatchers is one of the Public Safety Communication Department’s top priorities.

In a side room at the 911 call center, the next class of dispatchers is being trained.

A supervisor takes the role of a caller, using real situations to teach the new class.

Manny Urbina says this on-the-job training has been unlike any other he’s done before.

We have to try and stay on point, and keep control of the conversation. To make sure we get the help to the person in need,” Urbina said.

The training takes months before they are ready to take real calls, and also because PSCD is trying to add services.

One of those services is the existing 311 line; it’s a number Tucsonans can dial to report non-emergencies in their neighborhood.

We have a lot of calls that start with ‘Im sorry to call 911, this is not an emergency,’ ” Administrator Rick Pegues said. “We now have a resource for those situations.

Pegues says the number of dispatchers for the city of Tucson has been growing.

At the end of 2022, PSCD had 137 people on staff.

Now they have 162 and theyre still hiring, trying to get to over 200 dispatchers.

We need those calls answered right away. The more staff we have, the chances of us getting to that call faster is that much higher,” Pegues said.

It can be difficult to retain staff because being a 911 dispatcher is a high pressure job.

To help, the department has been improving employee benefits like fitness trainers, mental health support staff, and adding wellness breaks into shifts.

After a tough call, just being able to decompress a little, it helps your well being,” Administrator Samuel Torres said. “We know each day will be stressful, but were putting in little steps to alleviate that stress.

While it’s stressful, Pegues says this job is also rewarding.

This is one of the very few opportunities you can have, no matter how big or small, to directly impact someone’s life and someone’s day,” Pegues said.

Applications are now open for a new class of dispatchers to start in July.

Click here to see available openings.