By Special Guest Writer
Our role as Emergency Telecommunicators has expanded significantly since the first 9-1-1 call in 1968. We have dealt with constant changing protocols as well as surges in calls about domestic violence, mental-health crisis, and serious at-home illnesses, along with an endless number of other calls. Emergency Telecommunicators are highly specialized and receive extensive training in emergency response. As the FIRST first-responder, we provide lifesaving instructions in extremely high-pressure situations to the citizens calling 9-1-1.
On April 11th, 2023, I had an amazing opportunity to be part of approximately 30 emergency communications professionals from all areas of Missouri, representing all levels of service with over 500 years of combined experience. We gathered at the Missouri State Capitol for Emergency Communications goes to Jefferson City.
During this event, I had the opportunity to be one of 14 members selected to meet with Governor Mike Parson. During this meet and greet, we discussed 9-1-1 reclassification with Senate Bill (SB) 46 and House Bill (HB) 427/567 which modifies the definition of “first-responder” to include telecommunicator first-responders and related provisions. We also discussed getting additional funding for Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911). Previously, we went before the legislature and got part of the money needed to get all of Missouri updated. This year, we went back before the legislature to try and get the last part of the funding needed to finish the project.
A short time after my meet and greet with the Governor, myself and four others, one of which was also a frontline dispatcher along with shift supervisors and directors of communication centers, were selected for an interview with someone from the Capitol. During this interview we were asked a series of different questions regarding our job as well as our personal opinions on why we think 9-1-1 Telecommunicators should be classified as first-responders. Personally, I feel we should be classified as first-responders to help leverage additional benefits offered to first-responders, including mental health services, access to vaccines, and testing during a public health emergency. Reclassification also would provide an important recognition and validation to Emergency Telecommunicators and has been shown in other areas to help with employee retention and improve staff recruitment, which is desperately needed across the state of Missouri.
Throughout our day at the Capitol, many of us attempted to meet and speak with our Senators and House Representatives who cover our work district as well as our home district to discuss why we feel the reclassification is important to us and why they should vote to approve our bills.
Jamie Taylor, COML, the President of the Missouri chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) said, “This event allowed us to roam the halls of the Capitol to speak with our local Representatives and Senators, especially just a few weeks before an important vote and the end of the legislative session.”
As of today, according to the National Trend it shows that the following 19 states have passed laws reclassifying telecommunicators as first responders: Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.
We as Emergency Telecommunicators are the FIRST first-responders to talk with citizens who are on the scene and provide them with critical pre-arrival emergency instructions. We are a vital link between our citizens, law enforcement, firefighters, and medical professionals. Without our expert coordination and communication skills, the emergency response system would break down.
Later in the day, those who attended were treated to the National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (NPSTW) resolution readings in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Taylor said, “9-1-1 Goes to Jefferson City was an important event for Emergency Telecommunicators in the State of Missouri. We had a great turn-out; however, we always need more voices to be heard in our state. We as chapter leaders need to engage and mentor everyone, but the young 9-1-1 professionals will be the ones caring on our legacy for years to come.”
On May 10th, 2023, we were given exciting news from the legislature. They stated that on May 5th, 2023, our Senate and House Bills were sent to the Governor for signing. As of right now, nothing is official until the Governor signs them, so we will continue to work with the Governor's Office to make a favorable action on our legislation.
“Advocacy is a key part of our legislative process at all levels – local, state and national”, said Zach Dykes, RPL, the President of the Missouri chapter of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO). “It is the essential bridge to let our representatives know where their constituency stands on a subject. It also helps the delegates understand the impact, either good or bad, that these bills can have on specific groups of people, such as public-safety telecommunicators.”
Being four years into this career as a 9-1-1 Dispatcher, and this being such a big opportunity to be part of, it was a lot to take in but was definitely worth it! It was an amazing opportunity to have our voices heard.
Dykes added, “It is my hope that this event empowered those who attended to keep advocating on behalf of the profession, to engage with the Associations and to be part of a united force for positive change. You, no matter your age, your rank or your years of service, can be the voice that makes a difference.”
I highly recommend that if you have the opportunity to be part of anything like this or go to conferences, or anything that could better your career as well as others around you, that you take that opportunity and run with it! It may be a little overwhelming and scary at first, but once you start advocating for something you are passionate about you will have a new outlook on everything!
We are 9-1-1! We are the calm voice in the chaos!
About the Author:
Hailey Brunner started her career as a first-responder in 2016 as a junior firefighter at a local volunteer agency. In 2019, Hailey graduated high school and started working as a Communications Officer at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office (MO) at the age of 19. Now four years later, 9-1-1 communications is not only Hailey's job, but she has decided to make it her life-long career. Hailey is eager to attend training classes and other 9-1-1 events with her peers for personal and professional growth with the dream that one day she will achieve her goal of being the president of a 9-1-1 organization.