Are 911 Dispatchers First Responders? (the truth)


Emergency personnel nationwide are risking their lives daily to serve their communities. Firefighters, police, and paramedics are all first responders. Then there is the 911 dispatcher; are they considered first responders? The dispatcher is the only link between the crisis and the end of the situation when the proper responders show up.

911 dispatchers are considered first responders. The Homeland Security act of 2002 clarified emergency dispatchers as first responders in definition only. In addition, individual states have passed bills that classify 911 dispatchers as first responders. 

The occupational standards classification system keeps track of the skills and job descriptions of every job in the U.S.A. Reclassifying 911 dispatchers as first responders must be done through the legislature and is currently introduced to congress through the 911 saves act.

However, some states have refused to wait on congress to act. Keep reading to learn more about the classifications.

17 States Say 911 Dispatchers Are Fire Responders

Emergency telecommunicators receive better pay and benefits when classified as first responders. 

Since all 911 dispatchers are state employees, then the state is the one that must make the classification change individually. So far, 17 total states have made the change with various state legislation. Knox County, Kentucky, is the only county in Kentucky to make the change. 

The Top Three States are: 

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas

Hopefully, more states will follow suit with California and Texas, as both conditions are on the opposite side of the aisles and support the change together.

This issue does not seem to be a primarily debated topic, but it should get more attention as more states start making the change. 

A bill has been introduced in congress that would reclassify all telecommunications emergency responders as a protective services occupation classification. This classification would also give these workers better benefits and pay if approved.

So far, the bill was introduced into congress but has not yet been accepted. If this passes, more states are more likely to make the same change in classification. 

What Is a Protective Services Occupation Classification? 

The occupational classification system is used by the federal government to classify workers and collect data about industry-specific data points.

In addition, the occupational standard is used to calculate economic formulas for government reports. The standard occupational classification system does not track individuals, only the aggregate data based on that specific occupation. 

The Protective Services Occupational Classification (Class 33-0000) is where the first responders are located on the chart. This classification includes other protective service occupations such as:

  • Firefighters
  • Police
  • Correctional officers

You will also find supervisors and other people in roles that help protect the community. For example, 911 dispatchers are in the 43-0000 classification, office, and administrative support occupations. 

Getting the reclassification done through congress puts more pressure on the states that have not yet passed a bill to reclassify 911 dispatchers as first responders. With 911 dispatchers currently in the office and administrative support category, many states do not see the need to change the state role of the dispatchers and pay them more money. 

What the Benefit Is of Making 911 Dispatchers First Responders?

Dispatchers face a national shortage and do more than just answer the phone and tell the officer where to go. The amount of responsibility on the emergency dispatcher differs from the pressure on a regular office clerk.

Yet, unfortunately, with the classification being in the office support staff, the pay and benefits and training requirements are outdated and inaccurate. 

The largest benefit to the dispatcher is that the standards will be more transparent and consistent nationwide.

But, of course, that does not mean that each office will be the same; nationwide, every dispatcher will have similar training and skills based on the protective occupational classification that their peers are classified. 

The first person you speak to in a crisis is the 911 dispatcher. Often, this person on the other end of the phone can help calm a situation down, dispatch the correct emergency personnel, and even walk you through CPR.

Fortunately, dispatchers go through training to provide these services and deserve to be compensated accordingly. 

I wrote an entire article on how long it takes 911 to respond. Click the link to check it out.

Conclusion: It Is Time to Make the Change Everywhere

Emergency dispatchers are in shortage, which increases the wait times people have when calling emergency services.

In addition, the role of the dispatcher has changed over the years; the days of the single black desk phone, and a notepad are gone. Now dispatchers know CPR, firearm safety, hostage negotiation basics, and much more.

Mike Pertz

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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