Ky. county 911 director wants dispatchers reclassified as first responders

Owensboro-Daviess County 911 Director Paul Nave said "911 dispatchers perform life-and-death protocols, and they are trained to do that"


James Mayse
Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

Owensboro-Daviess County 911 Director Paul Nave said on Friday that he plans to ask city and county officials to pass a resolution designating 911 dispatchers as first responders.

The request is tied to a federal bill that would redesignate 911 dispatchers from secretaries and phone operators to first responders. If the bill pending in Congress were to become law, that would make 911 centers eligible for federal grants earmarked for first responders.

Currently, law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical service personnel are considered first responders.

But Nave said there is more to the request than the opportunity to receive federal dollars.

Before the 911 system was created in 1968, "telecommunicators were truly phone operators. (People) would call the operator in the 1960s, and the operator would take the emergency call and call the sheriff. There was no training."

Now, the field of 911 dispatching "has just drastically changed," with mandatory training, Nave said, adding, "911 dispatchers perform life-and-death protocols, and they are trained to do that.

"The classification of the 1960s to today, the job description is not the same," Nave said. "There's no comparison."

Nave said he would make the request at a future meeting of the city-county 911 oversight board. The state 911 services board is advocating for all cities and counties to pass resolutions designating their 911 dispatchers as first responders.

The plan, Nave said, is to have counties pass the resolutions this year so they can be delivered to the state's members of Congress to show support for the federal bill, the "911 SAVES Act."

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Norma Torres of California, is a former dispatcher, Nave said. Being eligible for federal grant dollars, "would help us maintain our training, or even boost our training, if we are reclassified," Nave said.

The reclassification would not affect dispatcher salaries or pension plans. Dispatchers are classified nonhazardous employees in the state's pension system, which would not change if dispatchers were designated first responders.

Dispatchers deserve to be considered first responders, he said.

"PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is common in the 911 community ... 911 "has a different stress compared to different jobs," he said.

Dealing with emergencies "weighs on the (dispatchers) every day," he said.

"We have dispatchers who have listened to someone truly take their last breath over the phone," Nave said. "That's just not something a phone operator does."

The classification system that currently designates 911 dispatchers as phone operators is reviewed every 10 years by the White House. The next review is still several years away, Nave said. They hope the designation can be changed sooner if enough support is generated to pass the 911 SAVES Act.

"No one thinks, 'Today's the day I'm going to call 91 with an emergency situation.' But when you do (call), you expect a professionally trained 911 operator to help you through your situation," Nave said. "You need a calm voice of reassurance giving you guidance."

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©2019 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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