Indiana Dispatchers Find Unique Way To Pay For Training

Departments collecting old cell phones as part of state-wide effort.

By Carmen Mccollum, Northwest Indiana Times

St. John, Ind. -- At a time when municipal budgets are strapped and Lake County's reassessment leaves future budgets in question, St. John police dispatchers have found a way to pay for additional training.

The St. John Police Department has joined with Indiana NENA Inc. to collect and sell old cellular phones and use the money to train 9-1-1 dispatchers across the state. Indiana NENA is the Indiana 9-1-1 National Emergency Number Association.

Joan Kolodziej, St. John Police Department administrative assistant, said the sale of the old cell phones will provide much-needed revenue.

"Most departments, like ours, have a limited budget and it is difficult at times to find monies for dispatcher training," she said. "It's one of the last places where money is spent. There are lots of different areas of training needed such as domestic violence, homeland security issues, suicide intervention, fire training and medical dispatch."

St. John Town Manager Steve Kil said dispatcher training is especially important for a growing community like St. John.

"There is a new telephone prefix (588) that people are not familiar with and training becomes crucial as communities annex territory." he said. "This is a good effort. At this point, we're not even sure if we're going to have a budget.

These are questions facing every entity of government. The tax levy is also frozen. It's not as if you can unfreeze it for certain things. So again, this program becomes even more important."

Ty Wooten, Indiana NENA Inc. president, said they have collected about $300 from across the state so far.

Wooten said the idea is to raise enough money to host multiple training sessions across the state.

Wooten estimated that each training session, held at three locations across the state, could cost between $3,000 and $5,000. He said the sessions would be offered to dispatchers at no cost to the community.

"The training is critical because dispatchers are just like any other first-responder," he said. "They are not technically the first people on the scene, but they are the first people collecting information and data for those people who are on their way to an emergency situation, and it's important for them to know all aspects of what's going on to help mitigate the incident."

He also said an estimated 100 million cell phones are retired in America as a result of technological upgrades.

"With the rules adopted at the end of November by the FCC, it gives cellular customers the ability to change wireless service providers without changing their telephone number," Wooten said.

Sue Mosier, Crown Point Police Department office manager, said they are participating in the program because dispatcher training is important.

Mosier, who is also first vice president of Indiana NENA, said in Lake County alone, there are 19 different agencies and an average of seven to 10 dispatchers per department.

"You're talking about hundreds of people," she said, adding that people in Griffith, Hammond, Lake Station and Munster also are participating.

"The whole state has been asked to participate," she said. "You don't just have to take the old cell phone to a department. You also can go online and turn it in. We're offering it at police stations as a convenience."

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