Cleveland’s ambulance service dispatchers answer more than 100,000 calls a year for medical and fire emergencies. Firefighter dispatchers sit in the same room at the communications center, waiting for their EMS counterparts to alert them when fire trucks must be deployed, reports The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The workload disparity is a relic of a failed attempt at integrating ambulance and fire services during the administration of Mayor Jane Campbell, who served from 2002 through 2005.
But EMS union officials complain that the department’s team of civilian dispatchers are now so overworked and exhausted that it has triggered a domino effect of dispatchers calling in sick to recover from a week of multiple double-shifts answering trauma calls. That, combined with the typically elevated call volume of the summer months, requires subsequent shifts of dispatchers to work longer hours than scheduled.
In response, the city began training a half dozen firefighter dispatchers this week to pitch in and manage incoming calls, said Assistant Safety Director Edward Eckart. The measure is considered a stopgap en route to building an entirely civilian dispatch team to handle all police, fire and EMS calls and eliminating the need to transfer callers from one department to another.
Firefighter union officials, however, have filed a grievance against the dispatch training, arguing that once the firefighters begin answering emergency medical calls, they will work for EMS, outside their civil service classifications.
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