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9-1-1, WHAT'S YOUR EMERGENCY? Collier partnership to fix dispatcher shortage

The Collier County Sheriff's Office teamed up with the Immokalee Foundation to find more people to help keep you safe.
Posted at 6:57 PM, Jun 12, 2024

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — When you call 9-1-1 during an emergency, you count on someone answering the phone to help you out, but, across the country, and in Collier County, there are a shortage of 9-1-1 dispatchers.

A partnership between The Immokalee Foundation, and the Collier County Sheriff's Office hopes to solve the problem.

"Collier County 9-1-1, what's the address of your emergency?," Luz Celeste Herrera asked.

She found her calling three years ago at CCSO, as a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

Herrera said, "I've loved it since then. I've always had a passion to help people."

As a high school senior in The Immokalee Foundation, she didn't know exactly what she wanted to do after school.

Then came a long the Public Safety Career Academy, a partnership with The Immokalee Foundation and CCSO.

The foundation's CEO Noemi Perez said she got the call at the right time.

"The Collier County Sheriff's Office came to us with the challenge that they were having on hiring and recruiting 911 dispatchers," Perez said.

They created a six-week summer program for their 18-year-old students and alumni which prepares them with 232 hours of instruction and preparation for the state dispatcher exam.

Once they pass, they start work at CCSO.

Perez said, "As a 911 dispatcher, that's critical and crucial to our community, but it allows them to create their own pathway within the Sheriff's Office."

For Herrera, a daughter of immigrants, it's a path she didn't know was possible.

"It's opened a lot doors especially for students in Immokalee because I feel like when we grow up, we don't really have this option," she said.

She still lives in Immokalee and feels proud to represent her hometown at work. It even gives her an upper hand sometimes when she picks up a call.

Herrera said, "Someone might call a certain area by a different name, and I'm like oh I know where you are."

She knows her neighbors can be hesitant to call 9-1-1 when there's an emergency.

"They don't feel comfortable or they don't feel like they know how to," she said since they might not speak English.

Herrera reassures her callers translators can quickly help out.

19 students completed the program and both CCSO and The Immokalee Foundation hope to see more people fill this life saving role.