SNOCOM center seeks 911 operators, dispatchers

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    Chris Schmarr has been a SNOCOM operator for more than two years. Workstations feature state-of-the-art ergonomics, and can be adjusted with touch of a button to allow operators to work sitting or standing.
    Chris Schmarr has been a SNOCOM operator for more than two years. Workstations feature state-of-the-art ergonomics, and can be adjusted with touch of a button to allow operators to work sitting or standing.

    Looking for a great close-to-home job with good pay, full benefits and the chance be part of a close-knit team making a difference in the lives of people in our community? The SNOCOM 911 Center has several vacancies right now for operators/dispatchers to work in their Mountlake Terrace dispatch center.

    “We usually have a good pool of applicants for these jobs,” says SNOCOM Executive Director Terry Peterson, “but the combination of our current low unemployment rates and the shift away from traditional classified ads means that a lot of potential applicants just aren’t hearing about us.”

    SNOCOM, a consolidated emergency public safety dispatch agency, was created in 1971 by its founding entities: the cities of Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, and Woodway, as well as Snohomish County Fire District 1 and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

    Applicants need to be 18 years old with a high school diploma, have basic keyboarding skills, and enjoy a dynamic, fast-paced environment.

    So what does a SNOCOM operator do and why do folks like the job?

    “One of the biggest things for me is the chance to help people and make a difference in my community,” says 22-year veteran Andie Hanson. “People call 911 on what might be the worst day of their lives, and we have the chance to help them through and make things better. Whether it’s stopping a crime in progress, coaching the birth a of new baby over the phone, or just connecting someone in crisis with the services he or she needs, we’re right there in the front lines working one-on-one with our neighbors. It’s extremely rewarding work.”

    In the fall of 2014, MLTnews covered the story of a SNOCOM operator who saved a life by providing CPR coaching over the phone. “This couple comes in every year and brings us a cake,” says Hanson. “This is just the kind of thing that makes our jobs so special.”

    Kirsten Caldwell recently completed her training and has been on the job for just a few days. "I was studying criminal justice at Bellevue College when I heard about the opening at SNOCOM," she says. "I may use the tuition reimbursement benefit to go back to college someday, but right now I'm really enjoying this. It's the best job I've ever had."
    Kirsten Caldwell recently completed her training and has been on the job for just a few days. “I was studying criminal justice at Bellevue College when I heard about the opening at SNOCOM,” she says. “I may use the tuition reimbursement benefit to go back to college someday, but right now I’m really enjoying this. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

    New operators get two weeks of intensive training, including how to operate the computer system, policies and procedures, scenario drills, and finally shadowing an experienced operator on the floor. Operators are all cross-trained to allow them to shift seamlessly between the three main job functions at the Center: 911 calls, police dispatch and fire dispatch.

    The operator work stations are something straight out of Star Wars, with multiple keyboards, seven computer screens, emergency scanners, and several phone lines all linked via GPS and other technologies to instantly provide location and other information when calls come in.

    Derek Wilson, an eight-year SNOCOM operator, explains what it’s like to be on the line.

    “You never know what’s going to happen next,” he says. “When you’re dealing with emergencies seconds really count. Our standard is to answer 911 within 10 seconds, and dispatch responders to the scene within 30 seconds.

    “When I take a 911 call, I first get the location and a description of the problem. I instantly relay this to one of my colleagues on dispatch, who immediately sends the appropriate responders to the scene. While they’re on the way, I continue to talk with the caller to get additional information. Often the responders arrive while we’re still on the phone!”

    Despite orchestrating lightning-fast, targeted responses, Wilson and the other operators know that situations occasionally go bad. “Even when the situation turns tragic, you go home at the end of the day knowing you’ve done your best,” he says “Bad stuff will happen. This job gives me the chance to make it not so bad.”

    “These are great jobs with good pay and a real career path,” says Peterson. “And unlike many professional-level jobs, they don’t require a college education. They start at $42,000 per year and include a full heath benefit package, vacation and sick leave, tuition reimbursement, and membership in the Public Employees Retirement System.”

    “One benefit I really love is unlimited back massages,” says Wilson, referring to massage benefits included with the dispatchers’ health insurance. “Our workstations are state-of-the-art ergonomic, but after several hours that massage sure feels great!”

    Interested in applying? Start the process at the Public Safety Testing website, where you’ll fill out the application and schedule a screening test.

    To learn more about SNOCOM, visit their website.

    — Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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