Simplified: It's a year of big changes for Metro Communications – Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County's 911 dispatch center – including a new building and a new home within city government. But one of the lesser-discussed changes is a unique partnership that's helping address staffing shortages.

Why it matters

  • Staffing is a consistent challenge, said Division Chief Mike Gramlick, who has worked as interim director since this spring. About 3 in every 4 people hired at metro quit in the first five years.
  • Some of the recruitment challenges will be helped by Metro's move from acting as an independent agency to being part of Sioux Falls city government — a change announced last week that’ll take effect in January 2024.
  • But in the meantime, and likely to continue into the future, firefighters are getting trained to be able to pick up shifts as 911 dispatchers. The goal is to minimize the need for mandatory overtime, prevent burnout and improve the overall work culture at metro.
“Our teams have always been close, but now a firefighter sitting at a dispatch panel really understands what's happening when he's on the other side of the radio," Gramlick said.

Tell me more about changes at Metro

The biggest shift is the move to a City of Sioux Falls department.

  • While the funding and coverage area of Metro Communications won’t change, the organization’s employees will be absorbed into the city.
  • The hope is with city infrastructure from Human Resources to legal to accounting help, Metro will have more ready access to the support it needs, Mayor Paul TenHaken said in a press conference last week announcing the change.
"Quite honestly, it would be easier not to do this," TenHaken said. "We're not looking to bring 54 employees under the city's umbrella, but what they gain from an operational standpoint is the win."

The change also has support from County Commissioner Gerald Beninga, who said it is "setting us up for growth."

Under the city, metro will be overseen by a board comprised of two city councilors, two county commissioners, Sheriff Mike Milstead, Police Chief Jon Thum and Fire Chief Matt McAreavey.

What other changes are coming?

Metro will also be moving to an office located on the new public safety training center.

The new offices will include:

  • $2 million in new technology,
  • a fortified building built to withstand natural disasters,
  • room to grow into the future,
  • And, one thing it’s current office space lacks: windows.

How are firefighters helping out?

Right now, there are three firefighters trained to help out as dispatchers as needed, and Gramlick said his goal is to get to 20.

  • The program is called "partner agency training" or "PAT."

At full staff, Metro would have about 60 employees, Gramlick said, so to potentially have 20 more to fill in will greatly increase its capacity.

"It's just an amazing concept, and so far it's proving to be very effective," he said.

What happens next?

Metro is expected to move to the new offices later this fall.

The transition to becoming part of city government will happen Jan. 1.