There has been a lot of talk with Congresswoman Torres out of California putting forth a bill that changes the classification of 9-1-1 dispatchers from clerical staff to first responders.
There are those who see it and say, why change it? It's not like they actually respond to the scene, therefore they cannot be first responders.
I can see the argument there, my husband is law enforcement and he is a first responder. He arrives on the scene of accidents and other things I don't want to see. Before he gets there, in most cases, a dispatcher has already talked to someone on the scene and has a full description of the problem. I have great respect for the responders on the road, but trying to get information on a distraught screaming person on the phone takes more talent than doing so in person.
Aside from what dispatchers deal with on a daily basis, the other thing is training. There is no nationwide or even statewide standard for dispatchers. Each agency is left to its own training since they are not recognized as anything other than clerical staff. It means that the 9-1-1 dispatcher that answers your emergency call may have anywhere from 1 day of training to 6 months of training. They may not have dealt with a suicidal caller until the first day out of training.
Education is important for dispatchers and sadly lacking. The reason why education and training are not done is because of funding. As a clerical staff, dispatchers do not fall under first responders and are not eligible for a number of grants and resources that are available to law enforcement.
The #Iam911 movement has been doing its best to get the word out about dispatchers and what it is they do. The Within The Trenches Facebook page has a plethora of stories that will break your heart if you are not prepared for them. These are just single events that dispatchers have had to deal with. When they hang up that call they start right back into another one.
The most important thing to realize is that dispatchers are not out to get first responder status for the discounts. It's not all about the name, even though recognition and appreciation would be nice. It the behind the scene benefits that matter the most. It is about having a standard across the nation and state for 9-1-1 operators and radio dispatchers. A secretary could do my job, with 6 months of training. That training is not required by anything other than the agencies preference in some states.
There are benefits of being labeled a first responder, this label helps them in areas that most people try not to think about. Stress management and PTSD are issues in a dispatch center. Dispatchers face high levels of emotional distress with the calls they take. A study showed that peritraumatic distress was high in dispatchers and showed up in an average of 32% of potentially traumatic calls.
Dispatchers are in dire need of resources that will get them training, stress management, and equipment that is needed. As a dispatcher, I want to talk to someone who knows what they are doing, who is trained and has the resources they need to carry out the job. First Responder status improves on what agencies are already doing.
If you have ever called 9-1-1 or ever intend to call 9-1-1, this should be at the forefront of your mind. When it comes to an emergency, it's not the time to say I wish I could have. Be prepared, help dispatchers prepare for when the emergency is yours.
The time is now to make a difference.