PALM BAY, Fla. — They are the eyes and ears for first responders, connecting them with the public needing help, while keeping safe — the demand for 911 dispatchers is growing, and one Space Coast department needs more of them now.

What You Need To Know

  •  Officials with the Palm Bay Police Department say there is a growing need for 911 dispatchers in the city

  •  Currently, there are 13 open positions out of 40

  • Nationwide, the need for dispatchers is expected to grow by 8% over the next 10 years

It's time for Officer Matthew Harris of the Palm Bay Police Department to gear up for patrol.

Harris, who is a a SWAT team member and recovery team diver, has been on the force for two years.

Right now he's assigned to cover the southwest part of the city and knows when he's on shift he has to be prepared.

"It's absolutely true, anything can happen out here," Harris said.

Just last year he had a traffic stop that turned into a foot pursuit — the suspects they were chasing began firing at him and three fellow officers.

He credits the police dispatchers for keeping calm and getting backup to them quickly.

Fortunately no one was hurt.

"Just relaying information, super quick, getting other units to us," Harris said.

He always makes sure he checks in with dispatch when he gets out of the car to go on foot patrol.

"I can say my ID number, what's going on and they will know exactly where I'm at," he said.

Magan Salender has worked at Palm Bay Police Department dispatch for 11 years.

She wanted to be a cop, but while getting training as a telecommunicator she found her passion for dispatch.

She said she recognizes her responsibility in getting help to the community while protecting those serving.

"We are the first line of communication from the citizen and getting that over to our first responders," said Salender. "This role is pivotal and critical."

The department, like most, is in need of more dispatchers — 13 out of 40 positions are currently vacant.

And nationwide the need for them will grow 8% over the next decade, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Harris said he often thanks the dispatchers personally for keeping them safe.

"There are a lot of lives at risk in this career field," he said. "Dispatch is a huge help for us on the road. They're absolutely priceless."​

The Palm Bay Police Department is offering incentives to become a dispatcher with a 3-year commitment.

Non-certified applicants will receive $2,500, while certified applicants can get up to $4,000 — $1,000 per year of experience.