By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago’s 911 operators, who make split-second, life-saving decisions all day long, are putting in work shifts as long as 17 hours, a grueling day due, in part, to mandatory overtime.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey has been digging into this problem for months, and dispatchers say it hasn’t gotten better.

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Several 911 call takers and dispatchers told Hickey the conditions are dangerous, but they’re worried that they will lose their jobs if they speak out.

Many of these dispatchers, whose contracts call for eight hour days, are working as long as 17 hours in a row.  Technically, 16 hours is the max.

A Freedom of Information Act request for Chicago’s 11 highest overtime earners found that they broke that rule 209 times since the beginning of 2017.

Dr. Matt Harrington is the founder of “Lines 4 Lives,” a group of 911 operators.

“Somebody’s just been shot and you’re telling them not to bleed out and how to apply pressure,” Harrington said.

“And by the way, you’ve got another call waiting.  And at the same time your kids are probably texting you. ‘When are you coming home?’ ‘’

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And several of those operators, afraid to speak up, asked Harrington to pen an essay explaining their overtime concerns.

When CBS 2 first started digging into this story last year, Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management blamed about 65 vacancies in the department but said they were focusing their attention on hiring.

It looks like there has been some headway in recent months: The average shift is down from 11 hours and 5 minutes in December to 10 hours and 55 minutes in August.

Harrington says there is still a long way to go.

“I want them to be respected I want their concerns to be heard,” Harrington said.

In the past, OEMC has said large-scale events have required them to schedule overtime to assure the safety of Chicago’s residents.

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CBS 2 asked for an update on the number of vacant positions.  OEMC did not respond to questions or a request for comment.

Megan Hickey