More than a title: Why classification of 911 dispatchers as first responders in Texas is important

Those who you speak to on the other line when you dial 911 will soon have a new title, first responder.
Updated: Jun. 12, 2019 at 8:35 PM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - The people you speak to on the other line when you dial 911 will soon have a new title.

With Governor Abbott’s signature on House Bill 1090 this week, telecommunication specialists will officially be classified as first responders come September 1.

These 911 dispatchers are the first to know about an emergency, and sometimes what they’re told affects them as much as it affects the police, fire and emergency medical services who respond to these calls.

“There’s stuff that you hear, stuff you see and do out on the streets, where you have to go get mental help,” said Captain Jeremy Hill of the Amarillo Fire Department. “That stuff happens inside here also. I can’t think of a more emotional response that I’ve seen than a mother calling and saying her baby is not breathing, and having to calm that mother down and give CPR instructions.”

Captain Hill, who is in charge of managing the Amarillo Emergency Communication Center and serves as the vice president for the Texas chapter of Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, went to Austin to testify to the committee about the importance of this bill.

While he says Amarillo is ahead of the curve on providing mental health support, this will make an even larger impact statewide.

“Suicide is an epidemic inside of the U.S. Our operators here, they talk to those people personally,” said Captain Hill. “They hear the noises of gun shots going off when they kill themselves. So you can imagine the emotional distress. Now, we’re going to be able to get them the appropriate help.”

Some cities across the state pay their 911 dispatchers a minimum wage, even after months of rigorous training.

Captain Hill hopes this bill will put them on par with their brothers and sisters who are responding on the street.

No matter the pay scale, when that phone rings, it’s these soon-to-be first responders who help with your emergency.

“Day in and day out, you hear some of the best in Amarillo and you also get to hear some of the worst,” said Mario Lomana, Telecommunications Specialist for the City of Amarillo. “We take the brunt of the initial call that gets in. So being able to reach out to somebody in need for some of the calls that have an emotional toll on us is very beneficial. That will improve morale here for sure.”

Texas is one of only a few states who have made this change, however, there’s currently a push to classify 911 dispatchers as first responders on the federal level as well.

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