Bill seeks to classify dispatchers as first responders

The 911 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services (SAVES) Act would reclassify communications officers from clerical workers to first responders


Jamie Berry
The Norman Transcript, Okla.

Efforts are under way nationally to get communications officers, aka dispatchers, proper recognition for what they do.

Rep. Norma J. Torres' House Resolution 1629, called the 911 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services (SAVES) Act, seeks to reclassify communications officers nationally from a non-protective service occupation to a protective one in the Standard Occupational Classification system, giving dispatchers recognition as first responders.

The California Democrat's inspiration for the bill came from her past serving as a dispatcher for 17 years at the Los Angeles Police Department.

"As a former dispatcher, I know first-hand the challenges our public safety dispatchers face, the stress they are under, and the importance of their work," Torres said in a statement. "You'd be hard-pressed to find administrative staff who are required to undergo the amount of training and evaluation that's required of public safety telecommunicators."

Her bill is currently under consideration by the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, and her office is trying to drum up bipartisan support.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., who are co-chairs of the Congressional Next Generation 9-1-1 Caucus, have introduced the 911 SAVES Act in the Senate.

Oklahoma 911 state coordinator Lance Terry said although he is not directly involved with the House resolution, he has helped push for support.

"Dispatchers play a critical role in public safety," Terry said. "They help give directions to first responders and provide direction to callers. They walk people through performing CPR, delivering babies and stopping bleeding."

Terry said the bill will provide proper recognition to dispatchers and allow for more creativity when it comes to scheduling. Also, he hopes it will help fill more vacant positions.

According to data collected by the Oklahoma 9-1-1 Management Authority, 16 percent of the allowed amount of communication officer positions are unfilled.

Currently, the state has 1,300 communication officers, Terry said, and "it's hard to find people to do the job."

"We're posturing them for success," he said, adding that passage of the 911 SAVES Act might help decrease the high turnover rate in the field.

Terry said the 911 SAVES Act won't change insurance coverage rules, retirement or PTSD counseling coverage, but it will inform states that it should be considered.

Terry said the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials has been advocating for reclassifying dispatchers for about five years. The organization's last attempt was turned down, and an appeal failed.

Other organizations that are pushing for the reclassification are 911 Emergency Management and the National Emergency Number Association.

"We need to give credit where credit is due," Terry said. "Dispatchers are the true unsung hereoes behind the calls. We want to recognize them the best we can."

Terry said Torres' bill is a way to take legislative action to make sure the request is critically considered.

"In your greatest moment of need, dispatchers answer your 911 call before an ambulance, firefighter or police officer can help you," Torres said. "This is a specialized occupation that requires professionals to think critically and use extensive skills and training to help first responders save lives.

"Yet, their current classification considers their jobs to be no different than those of secretaries, office clerks and taxi cab dispatchers. This is wrong, and we should reclassify their jobs as 'protective service occupations' to align dispatchers with their peers in the public safety community."

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©2019 The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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