An Audio version of this Podcast is available HERE
Right now, about 100,000 Emergency Communications Officials are getting in their cars and heading to New Jersey, with pitchforks, torches, and incredible anger towards me. But the fact is that statement is true, as far as the Federal Government is concerned at least.
While most of my blog topics are stories and ideas that I deeply believe in and want to promote to the general public, let me be perfectly clear, this particular topic DOES NOT FIT INTO THIS CATEGORY! Clearly, the men and women that staff our nations emergency services communication centers are the true FIRST first responders. They are the incredibly important funnel point that connects citizens to our nation’s emergency service teams. Recently, Kansas added an bill that was signed by Gov. Laura Kelly that classified dispatchers as emergency responders statewide, while other States are working through their own initiatives.
A GOOD START, BUT IS IT ENOUGH?
While that’s promising, the issue is a nationwide problem and requires FEDERAL LAW, and the reclassification of 911 dispatchers under “protective service occupations,” which would add them to the same category as firefighters, law enforcement officers, corrections officers and other public safety staff. Today, these public safety heroes that tend to 240,000,000 911 calls a year, are instead classified as “office and administrative support occupations,” the same as taxi dispatchers and clerical staff.
For me personally, this was never a problem 40 years ago when I was a dispatcher at a small community in New Jersey. However, this was because I was considered sworn personnel, and a Special Officer, that carried a weapon. That classification doesn’t exist in many states, in addition to many communication centers being consolidated across several agencies, and therefore removed from the ranks and files of a “police agency”. The department is still a government entity, but not one with police powers per se. This is where the dichotomy comes in the play between job classification, and where you collect your paycheck.
As I’ve said many times, the public safety vertical industry is a very complex one. In many ways, they operate like a business with a chain of command on the public and private side, they have customers like any other business (consisting of the constituents and citizens they protect), and they have a revenue stream in the way of taxes, although many people try to stick their hand in the income barrel before that money is counted and headed over to Public Safety for use and investment. Unfortunately, much of this happens out of the public view, and constituents have no idea how things work (or don’t work), nor do problems get brought to light, except maybe during election season.
THE SHORT END OF THE STICK
In the past, a bipartisan bill was co-authored and introduced by Rep. Norma J. Torres, who is the only legislator ever to hold the position as a former LAPD dispatcher. Joining her as a co-author is Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who is familiar with Public Safety through his former role as a former FBI agent. In addition to these primary champions of the initiative, there are currently a bipartisan group of 49 other lawmakers that have contributed their support and cosponsored the initiative. The Bill was initially introduced last year, however because any unpassed Bill, figuratively dies when a new congress enters into session, it can take several years before a particular issue makes its way through introduction in the House, referral to Committee where it often dies, and then finally to the Senate. It is only when a consolidated Bill heads to the White House for the President’s signature. Once there, it has 10 calendar days to be signed into law, or an automatic veto puts the initiative back to square one. For me, this was a hard history lesson learned when trying to get Kari’s Law through the system, which was very basic and simple in nature, yet it took 4 ½ years before Hank Hunt and I were able to step into the Oval Office and witness the President make that the law of the land.
An Audio version of this Podcast is available HERE
In a recent article in EMS One, Rep. Torres , commented that, “As someone who answered 911 calls for LAPD for nearly 18 years, I know firsthand that dispatchers are unsung heroes in our emergency response system,” in a recent statement. She added that, “Lives are at stake with each call they take – it’s beyond time that we recognize the high stakes of the job, and the incredible sacrifices these professionals make to keep the rest of us safe.”
The bill also has backing from industry standards bodies like the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) as well as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Torres also added that the high PTSD rates among 911 dispatchers are not reflected in the current classification under office and administrative support staff, and that go up to nearly 25%.
REMEMBER: YOU ARE PART OF THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
Contact your State Representatives and Congressional Leaders, at http://congress.gov, and make sure your voice is heard. Our elected officials need to hear your opinion, or they will decide for themselves the proper course forward.
I am never surprised at the retorically expressed ignorance of lawmakers. “Lives are at stake with each call they take . . .”, “. . . the high stakes of the job. . .” Really? How about school bus drivers? Or any number of other job classifications where a mistake costs lives? 24-7? How about gas station attendants?
There is no ‘dichotomy’ in job classification simply because one works at public safety agency. Shall we also re-classify police department janitors?
Being reclassified as a ‘protective service occupation’ may make some feel good. However, in practice, it will not make life any better. The notable change that occurs (if a federal law is passed) will be the exemption from FLSA requirements for overtime.
The overtime factor rears it’s ugly head with scheduling based on extended (over 8-hour) work shifts. I am not convinced that 10 or 12 hour shifts are a healthy alternative (you mentioned PTSD) given the nature of the work and the move to consolidate which essentially increases workload to reduce costs. The majority of job stress is due to under-staffing and routine overtime. A badge on the chest or in the pocket is not going to fix that. In fact, re-classification will likely make conditions worse!
Will telecommunicators now be ‘sworn’ staff and subject to a higher standard of responsibility and scrutiny? Will the occupation be on the ‘defund’ list along with police? What about academy training, vetting, physical requirements and certification? Will IA be an accompaniment to QA? Will we see more ‘contracted’ private dispatch service as a result? Will there be a freeze in authorized staff and non-personnel budget because of increasing costs and wage scales?
I am all for making the job better. I toil daily in that pursuit. Be careful in what you wish for and look before you leap. It is difficult to avoid the “law” of unintended consequence.
Thanks for the comments. Although I do not agree with your conclusion, I appreciate the detailed response and the time you put into your opinion.