Reclassification Full Speed

Josh McFadden

Those close to and involved in the emergency dispatch profession often refer to telecommunicators as the first, first responders. How true it is.

Before fire crews arrive to put out a blaze or extricate trapped accident victims, before police officers respond to a crime in progress, and before EMS personnel administer on-the-scene care, emergency dispatchers are giving lifesaving instructions.

You hear a caller’s first cries for help. You hear the terror in people’s voices. You bear the brunt of a person’s strongest emotions and most desperate pleas. You hear things that most people will never hear and would dread experiencing. You are there for people during their worst moments of life.

And it happens day after day after day.

On March 7, 2019, California Rep. Norma J. Torres (a former emergency dispatcher) introduced the 911 Saves Act to the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would require that the occupation of a public safety telecommunicator in the United States be classified as a first responder. Congress found that “Public Safety Telecommunicators play a critical role in emergency services” and these individuals perform work that “goes far beyond merely relaying information between the public and first responders.”

The U.S. Congress issued 12 other statements to justify the acceptance of this bill. As of the end of February 2020, the House Committee on Education and Labor was still reviewing the bill. If accepted, the House would pass it onto the U.S. Senate, which would then review it.

However, in the past several months, officials from cities and states around the U.S. are doing their part to recognize emergency dispatchers. In places such as Pitkin County, Colorado; Kanawha County, West Virginia; Brooke County, West Virginia; Mercer County, West Virginia; Owensboro-Daviess County, Kentucky; and the entire states of Texas and California, emergency dispatchers either now have the designation of first responders or are on that path.

This title change increases the visibility of these dedicated professionals. It also gives them better access to health benefits and grants. It’s well-deserved and long overdue.

It’s no secret that you dedicated men and women can suffer the same physical, emotional, and mental effects as other first responders. Heavy calls such as suicide attempts, home invasions, sexual assaults, murders, and house fires can stay with you forever. You may never get closure on such calls; you often don’t ever hear what happens next after you hang up the phone.

Yet you keep going.

We hope the 911 Saves Act becomes a law in the United States so that all emergency dispatchers get the proper distinction as first responders. Until that time, continue doing the selfless, remarkable work you do.

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