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911 Dispatchers Could Get Protective Service Classification

The change would help with recruitment and retention of 911 dispatchers, and boost morale. Recruitment and retention are big deals in the profession, as the national attrition rate is about 25 to 30 percent.

An emergency services dispatcher sitting at their desk receiving calls.
AP
The role of the 911 dispatcher has evolved over the years from that of basically a clerical position to one that involves life-saving measures and knowledge.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House last week would reclassify public safety dispatchers from Standard Occupational Classification to a Protective Service Classification, just as police and fire are.

The 911 SAVES (Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services) Act was introduced by U.S Reps. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), a former 911 professional, and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a former FBI agent.

The change would help with recruitment and retention of 911 dispatchers, and boost morale. Recruitment and retention are big deals in the profession, as the national attrition rate is about 25 to 30 percent. It takes six months to train a 911 dispatch professional at a cost of up to $200,000.  

“In today’s world, 911 professionals provide protocols for emergency medical services — things to do if someone stops breathing, cuts themselves or goes into labor, or any number of different medical issues that will begin with triage while that ambulance is dispatched to the scene,” said Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association.

One of the issues making this reclassification difficult is that 911 officials largely haven’t updated the job descriptions of dispatchers around the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics solicits job descriptions for data on how to classify these positions.

Initially, the 911 dispatcher merely took an emergency call and then passed a hand-written note to police, fire or EMS to dispatch. There were no computers or computer-aided dispatch systems. Now, however, life-saving measures are often performed by the dispatchers themselves.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics is just what it says it is, it’s a statistical gathering entity,” Fontes said. “They look at all the jobs that exist in the labor force, characterize those jobs by a variety of categories based on what the individuals actually do. What would help the process is to make sure that the job classifications reflect the current work done by 911 professionals.”

Early last year when COVID-19 began to take hold, there was concern within the 911 community that dispatch personnel would not be entitled to the personal protective equipment (PPE) that other first responders were, an example of the benefits that Protective Service personnel receive that dispatchers don’t.

“We jumped on that cause early on to ensure that 911 professionals have protection since they worked in a closed confine and they are the first, first responders,” Fontes said. “We were encouraged by the efforts of the civic leaders and public safety personnel that 911 professionals have access to PPE and now vaccinations.”

Fontes said the 911 dispatcher is a key link in the chain between the public and the response from a professional, and should be recognized as such. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that this service is recognized for the professionals that they are. They are part of that public safety family.”

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine.
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