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ELYRIA, Ohio (WJW) – 911 dispatchers in one Northeast Ohio county are sounding the alarm, claiming their staffing levels are critically low.

Lorain County officials say they realize there is a shortage, but are doing everything they can right now to fix the problem.

The union representing dispatchers at the Lorain County 911 center call it a matter of life and death.

They say current dispatchers are overworked, logging thousands of hours of overtime and coming to work exhausted.

“They are exhausted. They’re overworked. They’re working an inordinate amount of overtime and they’re going to reach breaking point,” said Dan Ozbolt, membership coordinator for the Fraternal Order of Police/Ohio Labor Council.

The Fraternal Order of Police/Ohio Labor Council is the union which represents Lorain County 911 dispatchers.

Thursday, Ozbolt sent out a “public safety alert,” claiming the dispatch center in Elyria is highly understaffed.

“We want to bring it up and address it before something catastrophic traffic happens to not only the public, but to the officers as well as the dispatchers,” Ozbolt said.

The dispatchers handle 911 calls for 24 fire departments and six police departments across the county.

Lorain County commissioner president David Moore says the three-member board is already addressing the issue.

“We are aware we have about 28 members and we have a lot of people that are on medical leave… We have a temporary issue with staffing and this kind of goes back to even the COVID days,” said David Moore, president of the Lorain County commissioners.

Commissioner Moore says the dispatch center is down to 22 employees and feels the appropriate number the county needs is about 38, but he says hiring a 911 dispatcher takes time and money.

“What we plan on doing is we’re revisiting the pay scale. We have lost quite a few employees over to Cuyahoga County. Our neighbors, they are offering quite a bit of pay,” said the commissioner.

“If your family member’s suffering a heart attack and there’s a delay in getting the response that they need that medical response, or if there’s a crime occurring immediate in your presence where you need help, you know, the last thing we want is there to be a delay or if they’re overworked, they’re tired” said Ozbolt.

Union officials say as of April 16, Lorain County dispatchers have worked a total of nearly 4,000 hours of overtime this year.

Commissioner Moore admits the county is spending a lot of money paying overtime.

“It takes training and it’s not something you can just call somebody off the street and say, ‘come on in and answer the phone,’” said Moore.

Commissioner Moore says the county has probably spent close to $160,000 to $180,000 in overtime in the first quarter of this year.

The FOP/Ohio Labor Council says the current business model for Lorain County’s 911 center is not sustainable and implores the commissioners to take immediate action.