OUR VIEW: Reclassification of 9-1-1 dispatchers must happen now

Published 8:12 am Thursday, February 10, 2022

On Wednesday, we published a story about the men and women who operate the 9-1-1 call center in Chambers County, highlighting the work they do and some of the daily stresses they face.

When a call comes in, a dispatcher can talk to multiple people at one time. Between the caller, the public safety personnel they are sending to the scene, to an officer out on a completely different call — they are the ultimate multitasker.

They are also the true first responders. Most often, in an emergency, public safety work begins with a call to the 9-1-1 center. From there, the dispatcher gathers as much information as possible to provide to the department they send to the scene.

The information they provide is critical to the response and is often all public safety personnel has to go on.

Unfortunately, dispatchers are not recognized as first responders but as office and administrative support occupations personnel — a more politically correct way of saying, clerical. According to Adam Brown, the hope is that will change, deputy director of Alabama’s 9-1-1 Board.

“There has been an ongoing initiative to have 9-1-1 personnel reclassified into the “protective” occupation category alongside their other public safety counterparts that has included a variety of efforts from the introduction of the “9-1-1 Saves Act” by Representative Norma Torres (CA) at the federal level in every session since 2019, varying state and local legislation and resolutions passed, and many grassroots awareness campaigns, both by 9-1-1 governing agencies and industry partners,” Brown said in an email to VTN.

T.J. Wood with the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office said a dispatcher’s role is vital to law enforcement, medics and fire departments.

“They’re our first line of communication,” Wood said. “A lot of people don’t realize how much a dispatcher does at one time. Their job is a lot like ours. They can be handling multiple 9-1-1 calls at one time, they can have a car accident on I-85 and be handling that car wreck on I-85, and at the same time have a domestic violence call in the Standing Rock area of Chambers County.”

We are in support of any legislation that will properly classify what these folks do and catapult them into a “protective” category that will allow them the benefits they deserve for doing critical work to keep our community and the people that serve it safe.

Thank you to all the 9-1-1 dispatchers for the dedication and compassion you show day in and day out.