Working conditions are unsafe, dirty, say county 911 dispatchers Mice, odors, parking woes are among complaints

December 18, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A sudden movement, a startled cry -- it's Bubba!

That's the generic name Baltimore County's 911 dispatchers give the field mice infesting their portion of Towson's county courts building. The rodents are among a number of maintenance woes at the multimillion-dollar center.

But while they sometimes joke about the mice, workers say other problems at the center are more serious.

They complain that exhaust and urine odors seep into the air system from the parking garage below the 911 center. They say the center isn't kept clean.

And they object to losing their parking privileges at a county-owned lot across Chesapeake Avenue from the courts building, saying they are afraid to use the county revenue authority's nearby garage at night because of homeless people who congregate there.

"I love the work," says Frank Wilsey, a 14-year veteran and Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees union official, "but working conditions have gone straight to hell."

County officials admit they have a rodent problem, despite monthly visits from an exterminator.

William H. Bond, director of information and technology, says he has spent many hours in the past year listening to employee complaints and seeking solutions. The center is cleaned regularly and thoroughly, he says, adding that professional tests by state inspectors have shown no harmful odors or contaminants in the air. He also is working on the parking problem, he says.

Both sides say the raised floor in the communications center, where 165 people work in three shifts around the clock, 352 days a year, is the rodents' advantage.

Equipment and people sit on large, carpeted tiles that raise the floor of the 7-year-old center to allow for miles of wiring and air conditioning beneath. The mice seem to like the open spaces, and Bond says some of the tiles might have to be removed for exterminators to get at the rodents.

A few mice have been caught in old-fashioned spring traps, but the employees say those haven't been effective.

The parking garage raises larger safety questions, employees say.

Two weeks ago, the county said 911 operators on the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift could no longer use a parking lot across Chesapeake Avenue from the courts building -- a lot where, workers say, they feel safe at night.

Instead, they must use a high-rise garage a block away. They have to park on an upper level when they arrive at midafternoon, they say. When they leave at night, the elevators often are not operating to discourage vagrants, workers say.

That high-rise garage was used by Linda Lester, a 31-year-old 911 operator who left work one night in October 1994 and was found slain a week later off Interstate 70. No one was charged.

Bond says the gravel lot was becoming too crowded, and county-owned vehicles need the spaces, especially in midafternoon when inspectors return from the field. He says he's looking for a solution.

The workers are not convinced. James Clark, president of the Federation of Public Employees, criticizes the parking lot restriction and the maintenance of the 911 center.

"Our center today is a disgrace," he says, adding that when he visited on a recent Saturday, "I could hear the mice running rampant."

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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