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Senate Bill Provides New Hope for 911 Professionals

A new bill introduced in the Senate, and a companion House bill, would reclassify 911 dispatchers as first responders, giving them increased benefits like access to mental health services.

911 dispatcher takes calls
A 911 dispatcher takes calls for the Milwaukee Police Department.
David Kidd
In what may be a sign of positive movement for passage of law that would classify 911 call takers as a “Protective Service Occupation,” a group of senators has introduced the Enhancing First Response Act (S.3556).

Although the House version of the bill, the Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services Act (911 SAVES Act, H.R. 6319) did not achieve final passage, it did receive favorable consideration on two prior occasions, giving the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) reason to think both chambers of Congress are moving in the right direction.

“911 has come a long way since the days when it was primarily a call-intake-and-referral function,” NENA CEO Brian Fontes said in a statement. “Today, 911 professionals rely on highly specialized protocols, training and equipment to provide life-saving triage to citizens and critical information to field responders. They are certainly 'first responders' and should be recognized as such. We applaud the senators for their bipartisan leadership on this important issue.”

The federal government classifies 911 workers as “administrative/clerical.” That is considered inaccurate by NENA and misrepresents the life-saving work 911 call takers perform, NENA says. 911 call takers can initiate life-saving medical instructions; deal with a suicidal person; coordinate the dispatch of police, fire and EMS personnel in a timely and safe manner; and play critical roles in emergencies during traffic accidents and large-scale disasters.

A reclassification of 911 professionals could give call takers greater equity in terms of benefits, including mental health support, access to personal protective equipment and the ability to apply for grants.