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St. Lucie County Hires First Westwood Graduate from New 911 Training Program

Post Date:09/11/2019 8:48 AM

Last year, St. Lucie County’s Human Resources staff collaborated with St. Lucie Public Schools to offer a new internship opportunity focused on Public Safety through Westwood Academy’s existing Criminal Justice program. This summer, St. Lucie County hired its first student to graduate from the new internship program at Fort Pierce Westwood Academy. Fort Pierce resident Alejandra Russelburg was hired as a full-time Public Safety Communications Officer in early July.

Because of the demands of the job, historically the turnover rate for 911 dispatchers is high. Dispatchers are often literally the first-responder for an incident, handling calls from residents when they are experiencing traumatic events in their life from car crashes to heart attacks to lost children. While dispatchers receive hours of training before they handle a real call – no simulated experience can compare with a real-life 911 call. This sometimes leads to a higher-than-average turnover rate in 911 dispatchers.

In brainstorming ways to improve retention rates at the 911 call center, St. Lucie County’s Human Resources Manager Douglas Baber saw a Facebook post about Westwood’s Criminal Justice program and immediately thought it’d be “a sure-fire winner” to incorporate 911 dispatch positions into the program. Baber reached out to school officials and soon began scheduling a tour of the county’s Emergency Operations Center with the students so they could see 911 Dispatchers in action. 

“If you build it, it will come as they say in the movies,” said St. Lucie Public Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent. “I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity that St. Lucie Public Schools affords the Board of County Commissioners to start a new lifeline for our 911 Emergency Operations Center. We look forward to an amazing program as it grows and to the additional opportunities that we may have as our collaborative programs grow.  It’s hard to believe that this started from a Facebook post.”

This new internship program allows St. Lucie County to hire from a trained pool of candidates that have already been exposed to the demands of being a 911 dispatcher. Additionally, it gives high school students actual clinical experience in a profession that is vital to all St. Lucie County residents.

“St. Lucie County and the School District has already had successful partnerships in collaborative programs like the Student Perks Coffee Cart program. We hope to expand the Criminal Justice program further than the 911 center to include Emergency Management, Animal Safely and Radiological training,” added Baber.

Westwood students that take part in the 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator Training program receive hands-on and in-the-classroom training on what it takes to be a 911 dispatcher, including spending at least 12 hours volunteering inside the St. Lucie County Emergency Operations Center’s 911 Call Center. The course work covers what to expect if they were to be deployed to a disaster site from learning the structure of an Incident Command System to understanding the National Incident Management System.

Fort Pierce Westwood Academy:  The WEST Prep Magnet is the only STEAM magnet high school on the Treasure Coast. As a premiere education center, The WEST Prep Magnet prepares students for the future. Collaborations with local colleges, universities, community businesses and government entities open the doors to advanced careers of tomorrow. Programs including Pharmacy Tech, Veterinarian Assistant, Agri-Technology, Criminal Justice, Robotics and Engineering feature emerging technologies and virtual/augmented reality applications.  Industry certifications in these unique programs prepare students to enter the workforce directly or move on to further post-secondary education.  St. Lucie Public Schools proudly serves students with a graduation rate of 91.8 percent.  As a high-ranking B district, there are no failing schools and St. Lucie Public Schools rank among the top one-third of Florida’s districts for student achievement. Both the School District and the Board of County Commissioners share the distinction of being recognized as one of St. Lucie County’s Best Places to Work. The mission of St. Lucie Public Schools is to ensure all students graduate from safe and caring schools equipped with the knowledge, skills and desire to succeed.

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