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Staffing, wait times remain a challenge for Marion County 911 Communications Center

"Nobody should have to wait an extended period of time to get help from our Marion County Communications Center."
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Posted at 9:43 PM, Dec 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-20 21:43:22-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Around noon Saturday, 13 callers were in the queue at the Marion County 911 Communication Center.

The wait time for an operator was nearly 19 minutes.

"It scares me a little bit. If I am calling 911, I am going to be in this state of mind that I need to talk to somebody right now," said Kelli Carey. "19 minutes can mean the difference between life or death, so I am concerned."

The delay upsets resident Kelli Carey and Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley.

"That doesn't include the number of calls on hold for 12 minutes, 11 minutes to 9 minutes, all the way down to no time. This is very concerning to me. The residents of Beech Grove deserve better. There should be no delay in picking up the phone for a 911 call," said Mayor Buckley.

WRTV Investigates Rachael Wilkerson showed the picture to Metropolitan Emergency Services Agency Chief Tom Sellas.

"I haven't had all the data for it yet, but right now we do have four incidents that happened close to the same time that flooded the 911 call takers. On top of that, we had two call offs that day that kinda hurt us also," said Chief Sellas.

Although all 911 calls come through the center, Sellas says the situation is an isolated incident.

"Call volumes fluctuate. [It] all depends on what is going on that day. Like if we had multiple car accidents or multiple shootings at one time, call volumes go up," he said.

He admits with sickness and short staffing, the agency is struggling to keep the minimum employees needed in the chairs at all times — seven on the fire side and ten on the law enforcement side.

25 positions are open right now. Hiring is a dire need, Sellas says, for the agency.

"We are moving forward, but we are moving at a slower pace than I would like," he said. "It is vital. It's the first link in order to get a public safety response."

Carey knows the range of emotions that callers go through.

"I was calling in for my dad who had congestive heart failure but I didn't have a second thought about calling in and being able to get someone. If I had to wait 19 minutes, I would be picking him up as much as I can, putting him in my car and taking him to the hospital," said Carey.

For callers experiencing a long wait time: don't hang up.

"Stay on the telephone. Do not hang up. If you hang up and redial 911, you automatically go to the bottom of the line and you will wait," said Mayor Buckley.

Mayor Buckley wants the agency to step it up.

"Nobody should have to wait an extended period of time to get help from our Marion County Communications Center. I am very disappointed," he said.

Chief Sellas says operators are required to call back if you hang up. He has this message for residents:

"I just want everyone to know you can still call 911 and somebody will be picking up that phone. There are times we do have multiple calls come in, but we are picking up as quickly and as efficiently as we can," Sellas said.

The 911 communications center is hiring.

The starting pay is $46,000, and the agency says it will increase to around $49,000 next year.