(EL PASO COUNTY, Colo.) — El Paso County Commissioners voted on Tuesday, April 11 to pass a proclamation that recognizes 911 dispatchers and call takers as first responders.
This measure was two years in the making and was officially pushed forward on Tuesday by Sheriff Joe Roybal.
Most times, 911 dispatchers and call takers are the first to respond to an emergency situation, but before this vote, they weren’t recognized as first responders and did not receive the benefits and resources that come with that classification.
“They are the first, first responder,” said Sheriff Roybal in his speech to the Board of Commissioners.
Standing behind him was a team of El Paso County 911 dispatchers who received a standing ovation at Centennial Hall after the Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of the proclamation.
The classification means access to mental health resources, the opportunity for worker’s compensation, retirement benefits, and more, according to dispatchers. Prior to Tuesday, dispatchers in the county were classified as office workers.
“Some people think… they’re just telephone operators… but they’re not, because the job they do is very, very, different than someone working in a call center,” said Meighan Powell, the El Paso County 911 Dispatch Communications Manager.
In the past year, El Paso County 911 dispatchers provided medical guidance to 14,000 callers, saved the lives of eight people, and delivered seven babies, all through the phone.
“They provide pre-arrival instructions… They deliver babies, they give CPR instructions, they give bleeding control… They become the eyes and ears of the incident without ever being on the scene,” said Powell.
They also have their hands full on a daily basis. The El Paso County office dispatches eight law enforcement agencies and 21 fire agencies and takes an average of 550 inbound calls per day.
“They truly are our lifeline,” said Sheriff Roybal.
Dispatchers and call takers are still not recognized as first responders at the federal or even state level, but they say county recognition is a good first step.
“The more individual municipalities and jurisdictions that do honor their employees as tower communicators, the more likely we are to catch the attention of the state and the federal government to get that reclassification done,” said Powell.
The proclamation that passed also recognizes the week of April 9th-15th as National Public Safety Telecommunication Week in honor of the local dispatchers and call takers.