Understaffing at Louisville's 911 call center means some callers placed on hold

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When something terrible happens, you call 911.

But then comes the real shocker: you're put on hold. It's happening to people calling MetroSafe in Louisville.

The recording says, "You have reached 911. Please do not hang up. An operator will be with you shortly."

A MetroSafe spokesperson said the message plays when calls go into the cue after about 20 seconds of ringing with no answer. A total of 2,949 people heard the message in Louisville just in January alone. The agency fielded 54,671 calls in that month. 

"We're going to answer that phone call eventually," said Vince Luney, MetroSafe Communication Center Supervisor. "But that person calling ... there's 15 others calling at the same time."

Luney oversees the MetroSafe call center in Louisville. He's short on 911 operators. Mandated minimums require seven-to-11 call takers per shift, 24 hours a day in the city, and Luney has to put employees on mandatory overtime to comply. 

"I can work them up to 16 hours, and after 16, I have to give them an eight-hour break," Luney said. "It's tough on them sometimes."

It's tough on taxpayers as well. EMS shattered its overtime budget. The city's Louistat website shows $650,000 in 12 months paid to workers in the communications center. 

"When seconds count, we count the seconds. So that means we are answering calls as quickly as we can," said MetroSafe spokesman Mitchell Burmeister. 

According to Burmeister, the city's emergency response agency has eight 911 operator positions to fill in addition to seven already in training classes. It takes six months for a new operator to get through training and man a station to take 911 calls on their own. So the stress in the emergency dispatch center is not going away in the near future. 

"We're sick of the shootings. We're sick of the pedestrians being struck. We're sick of everything," Luney said.

Despite the stress, Luney has a message to those on hold. He said don't hang up. It only delays the response even further. 

"We're going to get to them -- no ifs ands or buts about it," he said. "We're Louisville metro's 911 center, and we are not going to let this community down."

There are no known cases of anyone dying while on hold with 911 in Louisville. City reports say MetroSafe answers about 90 percent of its calls in the first 10 seconds.

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