April 13, 2023

It’s National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, when we honor the hard-working professionals who answer our 911 calls and dispatch police, firefighters, and paramedics to assist us during emergencies. The telecommunicator is the first voice you hear when you dial for help, often keeping callers calm and providing life-saving guidance—from how to administer CPR to how to assist someone giving birth—when emergency personnel are on the way. Behind the scenes, highly trained telecommunicators interpret an ever-increasing array of information transmitted with 911 calls, which enables emergency personnel to better locate and assist those who are in distress. Telecommunicators also actively plan, coordinate, and direct the response activities of these personnel, especially when multiple agencies are involved. And as the nation transitions to Next Generation 911, telecommunicators are receiving and assessing even more data, including a range of photos and video from bystanders, public safety officials, and traffic cameras, to determine the appropriate response to each emergency.

Unfortunately, though the job of public safety telecommunicators has evolved in the digital age, their job classification is stuck in the analog age. For years, I’ve advocated that these professionals, who are currently classified as “office and administrative support” in the government’s Standard Occupational Classification System, should be reclassified and grouped with other emergency response workers in the “protective service” category. Doing so can help with hiring, job retention, and training. This week, I renewed this call in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, offering to work with OMB to fix this problem and get our nation’s 911 operators the classification and respect they deserve.

Meanwhile, there is growing momentum across the nation to give public safety telecommunicators this recognition. Several states and counties have either introduced legislation or enacted laws that reclassify public safety dispatchers and telecommunicators so that they can receive much-needed resources, including mental health benefits for this stressful job, where they may respond to calls including active shooters, domestic violence, suicide, and other traumatic events.

I’ve visited dozens of 911 call centers across the country over the years, and each time I am impressed with the dedication, skill, and professionalism of public safety telecommunicators, many of whom manage their community’s 911 calls amid disasters that also affect their own families. Earlier this week in Boston, I had the opportunity to shine a spotlight on four public safety telecommunicators and their teams as part of a Massachusetts 911 award ceremony at the State House: Henry Baj for Telecommunicator of the Year, Nicole Gazaille-Graves for Supervisor of the Year, Erin Hastings for Leader of the Year, and the team from the South Shore Regional Emergency Communications Center for Team of the Year. These valuable first responders and everyone they represent deserve our support during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week and every week year-round.