FREDERICK COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are considering a bill to change the classification of 911 operators, a move dispatchers say would be a positive change in a stressful field.
According to the U.S. government’s Standard Occupational Classification System, 911 dispatchers are considered secretarial positions — making them different than first responders.
“We do so much more than answer the phone,” said Tara Vann, the second shift supervisor at the Frederick County Emergency Communications Center. “We’re the thin gold line. We’re the line between the blue and the red that kind of keeps it all together.”
House Bill H.R. 1629, also known as the 911 Saves Act, would change the classification, making the role of a dispatcher a Protective Service Occupation. The bill, introduced by former 911 dispatcher and now California Congresswoman Norma Torres, would also allow dispatchers to retire at an earlier point in their career, equivalent to those in law enforcement or fire rescue.
“We’ll fall under the 25-year retirement plan which is phenomenal,” Vann said, citing the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder within the field and the subsequent burn out rates.
Vann adds the re-classification would help to recruit and retain dispatchers moving forward, saying that hires either burn out after a few years answering calls, or they commit to 20 years.
“You know we’re trying to get people, good, quality people and keep them. And this bill is going to help us do that because they’re going to be entering into a profession they can be proud of and that they know they make a difference every day.”
Vann’s colleagues of the blue and red lines voiced support for the change, saying their own outcomes would be vastly different without diligent dispatchers alerting them to critical information during a crisis.
“They are the first responders,” said Frederick County Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Jeff Unger. “They are the first person who talks to somebody in need. They give directives on how to save a life, how to stop a bleed. They’re the first person who’s going to answer an active shooter call or a horrible accident. They are the first people who are highly trained in life saving efforts.”
Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland echoed Unger’s sentiments.
“If you sat for a half hour in an ECC or a dispatch area and saw what they went through,” Millholland said, encouraging people to have empathy for the pressure the dispatchers are under. “You would be dead if it [weren’t] for these dispatchers. So to say they’re in a special category of their own, it just doesn’t do them justice.”