I have been a 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator for 19 years. 

I have answered calls and heard screams of parents who have found their babies/children dead, husbands and wives who have woken up and found their spouse deceased, callers who are being beaten, threatened and held against their will.

I’ve talked countless people through CPR all while listening to them beg for life to be restored to their loved one. 

I’ve sent officers into dangerous situations and prayed for their safe return. I’ve answered a call for an officer needing assistance and attended officer funerals when the outcome was the worst imaginable. 

911 dispatchers

(Photo: Lisa Marie Pane)

 

The push to reclassify 911 Public Safety Telecommunicators as a Protective Service Occupation is in process now. Currently HR 1629 (911SAVES Act – Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services) has been passed by the US House and is moving on to the Senate. 

This bill outlines the critical role 911 Public Safety Telecommuicators have in emergency response. These 911 professionals are the lifeline to the public and to first responders. They are the true first responders when someone calls 911.

Whether the call is a missing or abducted child, a suicidal person, active shooting threat, cardiac arrest or that an officer is being shot at or needs assistance, these professionals ANSWER THE CALL. 

They talk to people on their absolute worst days.  

(Photo – Flickr/Flickr)

 

The work of a 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator creates a tremendous emotional and physical toll on the human body. These professionals work long hours, shift work, remain constantly vigilant and ready for any type of emergency that may be on the other end of the phone or radio. 

Imagine having a job that without warning, the phone rings and it’s a major accident, a shooting, building on fire, or someone witnessing a murder or a suicide.

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This is what we do every single day. We leave work at the end of our eight, 10 or 12-hour shift and have to carry all the stress and emotion home with us. One of the hardest parts of the job is not always knowing the outcome of the calls we answer and dispatch.

Our families will never understand the true depth and gravity of the job we do or the responsibility we bear. Not only are we responsible for the all citizens of our communities but also all law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel that respond to these emergencies. We know that the decisions and actions we make will impact many. Most decisions are made in a split-second yet have long-term effects. We often make decisions based on little known facts.  

To most people we are just “secretarial positions”.  However, research has suggested that continual repeated exposure to traumatic events like those 911 Public Safety Telecommunicators deal with, leads to cumulative stress and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.   

Most people think that just because we aren’t on the scene with law enforcement and emergency personnel that we do not experience trauma.

This could not be further from the truth. 

Just because we don’t physically see what goes on at the scene doesn’t mean we do not feel the stress, grief and emotion of the calls. Often times, not being able to see what’s going on is worse. 

 

I can speak from personal experience after taking a call from an elderly woman. She told me her name, address and that she was going to kill herself. During our phone conversation, she held the gun to her head and pulled the trigger… all while still on the phone with me. 

This call was over a year ago and to this day every time I hear a gun go off, or someone calls into the center saying they want to die. I’m immediately back on the phone with that woman. I revisit the entire incident all over again. 

There are a lot of calls that I have taken over the years that will stay with me. They’ve changed me and my outlook on life and the world. The most difficult ones to deal with are calls involving children.  

We need to get the word out to our representatives and let them know just how important the job of a 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator is and how urgent the need is to get HR1629 passed. We need their support. 

 

We are more than just secretaries. I have never heard a secretary give life-saving instructions, calm a child’s fears when their mother or father won’t wake up or stay on the phone with someone whose house is being burglarized while they are inside hiding in a closet. 

Several times we have tried to be reclassified. It’s past time for these professionals to get the recognition and acknowledgement that they deserve. We need the support of our state representatives to push for this bill. 

Written by Tara Collis

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