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MAR 10, 2023



Reclassifying 911 Dispatchers as First Responders

When citizens dial 9-1-1, the first voice they encounter is the dispatcher on the other side of the phone.

Before any law enforcement officer, firefighter, or EMS arrives on the scene, dispatchers are the first to respond to what could be the worst moment of someone’s life.

There are 19 states and five counties that have made strides in reclassifying 911 dispatchers. In 2019, Texas Governor, Greg Abbot, passed a resolution to recognize dispatch professionals as first responders.

However, there is much work to be done on a federal level.

Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies dispatchers as office and administrative support. Considering the duties of handling an emergency call, the job requires more than the standard office responsibilities.

Getting the right units to respond, with the right situational awareness can make a difference when it comes to saving lives; and it all starts with the first voice answering the call.

The Impact of Dispatchers’ Current Classification

Every day 911 dispatchers are faced with the difficult task of providing help to citizens in some of the most critical emergency situations.

While this could be the worst day of the caller’s life, it could sometimes mean the dispatcher’s worst day also.

Although they might not be at the front of the line in the field, call-takers still deal with the emotional toll of handling a crisis.

In a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine, 758 individuals were surveyed to understand the health challenges of 911 dispatch professionals.

The results of the study showed that participants that exhibited greater physical health complaints also experienced a high level of depressive symptoms, alcohol abuse, PTSD symptoms, psychological inflexibility and emotion dysregulation, as well as issues with mental distress and dissociation.

Under the current administrative classification, salaries, training, mental health resources and retirement benefits are limited in comparison to professionals identified as first responders.

Lack of resources, benefits and incentives creates a significant shortage of well-trained and experienced personnel.

The job requires competent staff who can handle the demand of duty, and who have the skillset and sound judgment required for tactical communication dispatch.

For dispatchers working in the industry, the potential for reclassification is the first step in ensuring qualified people are on the front lines of an emergency.

The Future of 911 Dispatch

The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) recently hosted a conference, 9-1-1 Goes to Washington, to bring emergency response professionals to the nation’s capital to address issues such as policy change relating to dispatchers.

Organizations like NENA are working to lay the legislative groundwork for current and future 911 professionals by educating elected officials to shape new laws. Lobbyists have also introduced the 911 SAVES Act to Congress to push efforts forward.

There are currently 19 states that have some form of legislation that considers call-takers as first responders, which means there’s much room for advancement.

While there are organizations doing work on that federal and state level, you can take action in your individual agency by providing your dispatchers with helpful resources, and by making mental health a priority.

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