Kayla Boyd is a dispatcher at the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center in Windham, where employees are working overtime to cover a staffing shortage. With 10 of the center’s 35 positions open, officials are looking for ways to streamline operations so fewer dispatchers can provide the same level of service. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Officials at the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center are looking for ways to adjust operations to reduce the number of hours dispatchers are forced to work as the county tries to fill 10 open positions.

With more than a quarter of the center’s 35 positions open, dispatchers have had to pick up more overtime hours to ensure that there is no impact on the services they provide, said Melinda Fairbrother-Dyer, the center’s director. There have not been any delays handling 911 or non-emergency calls, but Fairbrother-Dyer has asked the board of directors to look at ways to streamline operations so dispatchers can continue to provide the same services with fewer people.

“The staffing level is at a point where I’m raising the red flag and letting them know our employees’ well-being needs to be the highest priority,” she said.

Employers in many industries in Maine are struggling to fill open positions, but it has been especially difficult to fill open positions in public safety. In Cumberland County, the most alarming number of vacancies has been at the Cumberland County Jail, which had 65 vacancies for corrections officers last year, County Manager James Gailey said.

“With the dwindling workforce in our region and the prospering economy, finding workers for our positions is getting harder and harder,” he said.

The regional communications center in Windham takes police calls for the sheriff’s office and all the police departments in Cumberland County other than Westbrook, Scarborough, Portland, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. Dispatchers also handle calls for 19 fire departments and monitor radios for public works agencies.


There are 28 dispatchers working at the center, but three have given notice that they are leaving. Fairbrother-Dyer said one employee decided to stay home with her child and another is leaving to take a higher-paying job in a different industry.

“For the first time ever, we’re competing for pay with other industries. Some coffee shops are paying more than what a police officer gets,” she said.

Melinda Fairbrother-Dyer is the communications director at the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center in Windham. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The pay range for dispatchers starts at $20.32 per hour, according to job listings. Applicants go through an extensive background check during the hiring process, followed by 20 weeks of training once they are hired.

Erin Wolfe, a shift supervisor who has worked as a dispatcher for seven years, said employees are “feeling the crunch” of not being fully staffed. She works between four and eight overtime hours each week, but others take on more.

“We all understand the importance of what we do and try to work together to make sure we have a little bit of balance between being forced into overtime and having time off to recharge and relax,” she said.

Wolfe said she and her co-workers are proud that there has been no impact on service even with so many open positions.


“We’re still answering 911 calls within 6 seconds, we’re still putting out calls as soon as possible, we’re not making mistakes,” she said. “We’re making sure everything is running smoothly and making sure our responders and communities are safe. None of that has been impacted by staff shortages.”

Fairbrother-Dyer said dispatchers are used to handling stressful calls, working long hours and missing family events. But she wants to try to minimize work stress that comes from anything other than calls by examining how the center operates.

Cumberland County Regional Communications Center in Windham. Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

One aspect of operations being discussed is the number of frequencies used by the departments the center works with. Each agency has its own radio frequency and each police department has its own dispatcher, Fairbrother-Dyer said.

“We’re going to look to see how we can consolidate what we’re doing a little bit more,” she said.

Fairbrother-Dyer said county management and the board of directors will talk with representatives of each agency to see if there are places where it makes sense for more than one community to use the same frequency. Many departments already work closely with neighboring towns to cover calls and it could be beneficial for them to use the same frequency, she said.

Ultimately, it will be up to the board of directors to decide what changes will be made. Fairbrother-Dyer is confident that changes will only be made if they are done in a way that enhances services and supports employees.


Kevin Schofield, chair of the board of directors and police chief in Windham, confirmed the board is engaged in those conversations, but referred all questions about their discussions to county management because no formal decisions have been made.

“We have to look at how we’ve operated that facility in the past, and is that the best and most efficient way moving forward. We need to have a conversation about that and those conversations need to happen with the towns we service,” said James Gailey, the county manager.

While the board of directors and communications center staff look at potential changes, the county will continue to try to fill open positions.

Last fall, the county hired a recruiter to focus on hiring. Gailey believes Cumberland County is the only county in Maine with a recruiter on staff, a move that he says has been a “phenomenal” tool that has resulted in more applications.

The county also is offering employees a $1,200 bonus if they recruit employees to work for the county.

Fairbrother-Dyer said the county is maintaining a high standard for applicants at the regional communications center even though it is low on staff. Prospective employees are invited in to sit alongside a dispatcher to better understand what the job entails.

“We’re not looking to hire just anybody,” she said. “We’re looking to hire more people who see this as their calling.”

Wolfe, who became a dispatcher after working as an EMT and call firefighter, hopes those recruitment efforts lead to more people finding a career in dispatching.

“It’s a very rewarding job,” she said. “You go to work every day and help someone who is potentially having the worst day of their lives.”

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