It may come as a surprise to many that 911 dispatchers are not considered first responders under federal occupation standards. But states are taking matters into their own hands to get that changed.
Kansas has just joined a small list of states, such as Texas, California, and West Virginia, that designate dispatchers as emergency responders. Governor Laura Kelly signed Senate Bill 40 into law on March 25, 2021, which includes adding public safety communicators to the state’s “emergency responders” list. The classification already includes law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS providers.
“I am elated that public safety communicators are finally receiving the dignity and respect they justly deserve,” says Angela Murphy, President of the Kansas APCO (Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials) Chapter.
“It is imperative that these brave men and women, whose stress level and contribution rivals that of police, fire, and medical personnel, are first identified in Kansas Statute and then included in statutes meant to support emergency (first) responders,” she adds. “Public Safety Telecommunicators should be treated as equals to the other heroes in public safety.”
Federally, the 911 SAVES Act would change the classification of dispatchers from a clerical/office support occupation to a protective service occupation in the catalog of the Office of Management and Budget's Standard Occupational Classification System (SOC).
The bipartisan bill was re-introduced in Congress on April 1, 2021, by U.S. Representatives Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Fitzpatrick is a former FBI Agent and Torres was a dispatcher for 18 years. They say the change would give dispatchers the recognition they deserve. "A change that won't cost a cent, but would provide validation to the nearly 100,000 professionals across America who answer emergency calls every single day," Torres adds.
Voice Products strongly supports a reclassification of public safety communicators as first responders because of the critical work they do.
“As the Kansas APCO Chapter Commercial Advisory Member, I hear amazing stories throughout our communities where dispatchers use their training and experience to ensure positive outcomes in an emergency,” said Stuart Peters, Vice President of Voice Products. “Dispatchers are the ones who answer the first call when someone needs help. They often provide life-saving advice and are able to assess a situation and prepare police, fire or EMS as they arrive at a scene.”
The Kansas legislation was in the works for more than a year.
“This is a historical day in Kansas,” Melanie Bergers, Director of the Shawnee County Emergency Communications Center, told WIBW in Topeka. “There are several other states out there that have fought to get appropriate recognition for their dispatchers, and our professional organizations have worked tirelessly over the last few years.”
Besides providing recognition for 911 dispatchers in the state, the change in designation also opens the door for benefits and services related to their occupation.
“Kansas APCO and Kansas NENA (National Emergency Number Association) will continue to advocate for our occupation,” adds Murphy. “We'll be focusing on COVID benefits, PTSD inclusion, equitable benefits, and quality in-person training. "