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Legislators reintroduce bill to change job classification of 911 dispatchers nationwide

The bipartisan bill was co-authored by Rep. Norma J. Torres, who is a former LAPD dispatcher, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent

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Reps. Norma J. Torres and Brian Fitzpatrick have reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would change the job classification of 911 dispatchers across the country from office and administrative support to protective service.

Photo/U.S. Rep. Norma J. Torres

By Laura French

WASHINGTON — Legislators have reintroduced a bill in Congress that would change the job classification of 911 dispatchers nationwide.

The 911 SAVES Act would classify 911 dispatchers under “protective service occupations” instead of “office and administrative support occupations,” adding them to the same category as firefighters, law enforcement officers, corrections officers and other public safety staff. (EMS providers are classified under healthcare occupations.)

The bill was co-authored by Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and is currently cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 49 other lawmakers.

“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,” Torres said in a statement. “Lives are at stake with each all 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.”

Torres also added that the current classification under office and administrative support staff doesn’t reflect the high PTSD rates among 911 dispatchers, which she said go up to nearly 25%.

“As a former FBI agent, I know first-hand the lifesaving services provided by our 9-1-1 operators and dispatchers are vital for the safety of our community,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “When in danger, we call 9-1-1 and depend on the hard-working, dedicated public servants on the other end of the line to ensure we get the help we need. They are the first responders among first responders.”

The bill is backed by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

“America’s 9-1-1 professionals may be the most important people you will never meet. They are the vital first link in the emergency-response chain,” said NENA CEO Brian Fontes, in a statement. “Passing the 911 SAVES Act would give the estimated 100,000 public safety telecommunications located in every community across American the respect and support they deserve while improving the government’s data collection and analysis efforts. Combined with the possible enactment of a workable Next Generation 9-1-1 bill, 2021 could mark the dawn of a new era for America’s 9-1-1 systems and the hard-working professionals who lead and staff them.”

The 911 SAVES Act was previously introduced in the 116th Congress in 2019.

Some state and local governments have passed legislation classifying 911 dispatchers among first responders; most recently, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bill classifying dispatchers as emergency responders statewide.