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It’s Time to Thank a Telecommunicator

Kristen Goode  | 15 April 2022  |  3 minute read

first responder looking over multiple computer screens to help a 9-1-1 caller

“9-1-1. What is the address of your emergency?”

I’ve called 9-1-1 seven times in my life. Four times, family members needed emergency medical help; twice, strangers required emergency medical help. Once, we needed an accident report following a fender-bender (and there was no answer when we called the county non-emergency number).

The right mix of law enforcement, fire and rescue, and EMS responded to each call for service. All thanks to telecommunicators.

The call-taker patiently listened to my adrenaline-fueled request, asked the right questions to uncover critical information, and gave the first line of support through over-the-phone instructions. Then, the dispatcher coordinated the field response, sending the right people to the scene and sharing the necessary details of the 9-1-1 call with arriving field responders.

Each time I’ve dialed 9-1-1, I’ve interacted with the first responders who arrived at the scene and had the opportunity to thank them. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to properly thank the individual telecommunicators on the other end of the phone who’ve supported me.

I’ve met call-takers and dispatchers from around the world thanks to my career in the private sector side of public safety. However, I’ve only met one telecommunicator from my hometown of Huntsville, AL, and we met during a school field trip to the local emergency communications center. 

The average community member has never knowingly met a 9-1-1 call-taker or dispatcher, but these unseen superheroes are always ready to help others through life’s most stressful moments.

Often Overlooked

First responders are recognized as highly-trained professionals who help in serious, time-sensitive, and often dangerous situations.

By that definition, telecommunicators are first responders.

There’s no way to look at the critical services they provide and think otherwise. Unfortunately, telecommunicators are often ignored by government classifications and left out of mental health resources offered to law enforcement, fire and rescue, and EMS.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics labels telecommunications careers as office and administrative support occupations. The 9-1-1 SAVES Act, introduced by former dispatcher and congresswoman Norma Torres, would change that classification and give telecommunicators the recognition they deserve. This would be an administrative change, but it would encourage states to make the same change. This would give telecommunicators the proper recognition they deserve, and would provide them with more benefits. Today, only 19 U.S. states recognize 9-1-1 call-takers and dispatchers as first responders.

The Canadian government considers public safety telecommunicators as first responders. 9-1-1 call-takers and dispatchers in Canada receive the same government-supported physical and mental health support as law enforcement, fire and rescue, and EMS. Their designation also increases the respect telecommunicators receive from other first responders and the community for the value and professionalism they bring to the job every day.

The Australian government doesn’t explicitly designate telecommunicators as first responders, but, according to the 2019 Parliament report ​​The People behind 0-0-0: Mental Health of Our First Responders, “The term ‘first responder’ most commonly refers to professionals such as paramedics, police officers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel… It may also refer to individuals who perform those functions in a volunteer capacity and emergency control center workers.”

Selfless Heroes

Like their fellow first responders, telecommunicators are inherently selfless and work tirelessly to serve others. 

I’ll never forget meeting JaeLeia Morris, a 9-1-1 dispatcher in rural Tennessee. We did what all distantly-related adults do and started making small talk about our jobs. When I told JaeLeia I worked for a company that has a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) product, she exclaimed, “Your company makes CAD software? Thank you so much! I need to hug you!”

I was speechless. A real-life hero, whose life-saving work often goes unnoticed, wanted to thank me simply because I worked for a public safety technology company.

JaeLeia shared how difficult it was in the days when she dispatched with pen and paper, and how much easier it was for her to support first responders in the field and help people in need now that she uses CAD.

Every interaction I’ve had with telecommunicators has similar themes. When discussing CAD system requirements, call-takers and dispatchers don’t discuss features and functions in terms of what would make their jobs easier. Rather, they discuss features and functions in terms of what increases their capability to support people in emergency situations and responders in the field. 

It’s Time to Thank a Public Safety Telecommunicator

To everyone who’s picked up a headset and answered your community’s call: Thank you.

Thank you for working through the holidays. Thank you for missing family celebrations to support people in distress.

Thank you for working days, nights, and weekends so someone is always available to answer the phone.

From community members everywhere, thank you.

To community members everywhere: If you haven’t thanked a telecommunicator recently, today is a good day to say thank you. Send a thank you note to your local emergency communications center. 

Call your government representative and tell them 9-1-1 call-takers and dispatchers deserve recognition as first responders.

And, if you ever need to call 9-1-1, 0-0-0, 1-1-2, 1-1-1, or any of the hundreds of emergency service hotlines available worldwide, don’t forget to say, “Thank you.”

Discover other technology resources for telecommunicators in the Mark43 Resource Center.

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