N.Y. law recognizes 911 dispatchers as first responders

For some, the bill recognizes and validates the work dispatchers have been doing all along


By Cara Chapman
The Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y.

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Up until Friday, 911 dispatchers were not officially recognized as first responders in New York State.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed three bills into law, including one that defines a "first responder in communication" as an individual who is, among other positions, a public safety or emergency services dispatcher who meets the minimum requirements established by a local government, department or agency.

"Such individual is responsible for the administration or supervision of lifesaving communication services for emergency situations," the legislation reads.

Clinton County Office of Emergency Services Assistant Director Kelly Donoghue said the long-running assumption had been that dispatchers — whose responsibilities include taking 911 calls, summoning and sending necessary emergency personnel, and coordinating with responding agencies until an emergency is over — were already considered first responders.

The New York State 911 Coordinators Association, of which Donoghue is president, has been advocating to make the designation official for years.

For Donoghue, the bill recognizes the work dispatchers have been doing all along.

"It also validates what they've been doing," he told the Press-Republican. "I think sometimes some have not felt that validation as being a first responder. It not only recognizes but validates who they are as 911 communications dispatchers."

The bill's memo acknowledges emergency telecommunicators as the "front line of support and protection for our communities" and " New York's first first responders."

It further points to trauma experienced by these workers in the face of crisis and tragedy, and how that has led to higher rates of attrition than national employment averages, exceeding 30% in some counties.

"Granting these frontline heroes the designation of First Responders in Communications will demonstrate New York State's respect for these workers while serving to boost morale, open training opportunities and increase access to mental health treatment options, all of which have been proven effective in reducing attrition and turnover," the memo reads.

State Sen. Dan Stec (R- Queensbury) as well as State Assembly members D. Billy Jones (D- Chateaugay Lake) and Matt Simpson (R- Horicon) all cosponsored the bill.

"On behalf of the New York State 911 Coordinators Association, we want to thank Gov. Hochul and the legislative sponsors for their leadership and support of all the 911 coordinators and dispatchers across the state," Donoghue said in a statement.

"We feel great pride and respect being included as first responders and will continue to be on the front lines and support our communities."

[RELATED: Poll results: Should 911 dispatchers be reclassified as first responders?]

(c)2021 the Press-Republican (Plattsburgh, N.Y.)

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