Valley Voices: It’s time to give 911 pros the respect they deserve
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Colorado’s 911 professionals have been there for us, 24/7.
They have prioritized our health and safety over their own by continuing to work in close quarters, often without access to vital personal protective equipment. They have dealt with constantly changing emergency-response protocols and surges in calls about domestic violence, mental-health crises and serious at-home illnesses. They have navigated quarantine-induced staffing shortages and, in most communities, including ours, no ability to work from home. Like other first responders, they have sacrificed and persevered so that when anyone dials 911, someone is there to help.
Sadly, while the federal government and statehouses across the country have designated 911 professionals as essential workers throughout the pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Standard Occupation Classification System categorizes public safety telecommunicators — the industry term for frontline 911 professionals — as “Office and Administrative Support Occupations.”
That’s right: Your government views the person who may save your life — or the life of a loved one — as belonging in the same category as office clerks and taxi-cab dispatchers.
On any given day, 911 telecommunicators are called upon to provide emergency medical instructions to save people from choking and heart attacks. They help people on the verge of suicide to get the help they need. They analyze a caller’s tone of voice and background noises to assess clues that are unseen and unspoken. They work with colleagues to coordinate the activities of police, fire and emergency-medical crews dealing with active shooters, natural disasters and other deadly hazards. They require highly specialized training and skills, and they perform uniquely stressful and valuable work.
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America’s 911 professionals may be the most important people you will never meet. They are the vital first link in the emergency-response chain. Yet, the fact that they work behind the scenes means these hidden heroes tend to be taken for granted by the public and by officials at all levels of government. The 911 workforce is chronically under-funded and under-supported.
To help fix this problem, U.S. Reps. Norma Torres (D-CA) — herself a former 911 professional — and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), a former FBI agent, are sponsoring the Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services Act (911 SAVES Act). If enacted, this bipartisan bill would reclassify the public safety telecommunicator as a “Protective Service Occupation,” alongside law-enforcement personnel, firefighters, security guards and others whose job it is to protect our communities.
This small but important change — which would cost taxpayers nothing — would give an estimated 100,000 public safety telecommunicators located in every community across America the respect and support they deserve while improving the government’s data collection and analysis efforts.
As this bill is introduced in Congress this April — which is also National 911 Education Month — we call on every member of Congress from Colorado to cosponsor the legislation and show their support for the unsung heroes of public safety.
Marc Wentworth is the director of the Vail Public Safety Communications Center, the multi-discipline public safety communications center serving all of Eagle County. He can be reached at email@example.com.