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Are 9-1-1 call-takers, dispatchers, and telecommunicators First Responders?

Author: Nick Zecher

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2017-10-11
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-    From an email posting by the author. Used with author’s permission.

Recently the Bureau Of Labor Statistics refused to move 9-1-1 Call-Takers/Dispatcher /Telecommunicators from "Major Group 43-0000 (Office and Administrative Support Occupations)" to "Major Group 33-0000 (Protective Service Occupations)" in their Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) for 2018.

The work these people do every day has caused numerous organizations and parts of the federal government to dispute this. However, the Bureau Of Labor Statistics refuses to change their mind.

Here are some things to keep in mind about 9-1-1 professionals and the work they do:

  • 9-1-1 Personnel are the FIRST first responders; they take reports of emergencies when they are at their freshest, when the least amount of information is known, and then work hard to turn this into an incident that responders can go to and mitigate. Doing all this while calming callers, and keeping control of their own emotions no matter how much it hurts or what damage it causes them in the long term.
  • Although these people do not work in a physically dangerous environment, stress and PTSD are a constant fact of their everyday lives.
  • 9-1-1 Centers throughout the country are chronically understaffed and the people working there are overworked, unsung, and under appreciated. Under constant stress, they must get things perfect, all the time, or else endanger lives and property, or at least suffer a complaint.
  • Along with this, 9-1-1 Centers must have people on duty, all the time, days, nights, weekends, holidays, Christmas morning and Thanksgiving evening. These people are often forced to be On Call without compensation.
  • Keep in mind some sounds that a 9-1-1 Call-Taker and Dispatcher (Telecommunicator) never forgets:
    • Sound of a scream from a mother whose baby stopped breathing.
    • Sound of that baby crying when he starts breathing again.
    • Sound of a parent who found their child has overdosed.
    • Sound of a child whose parent "Won't wake up."
    • Sound of a Firefigter's Mayday call.
    • Sound of the words "Shots Fired! Officer Down."
    • Sound of someone reading a suicide note, knowing you are the last voice they will hear, then hearing a gunshot, all before someone could get on scene with them.
    • Sound of silence on a phone or radio ... just waiting.

One other thing to think about when considering if these professionals are clerical workers or first responders: What if you called 9-1-1 and no one answered; how would you get help? How would you contact the fire department, an ambulance, or law enforcement? How would these responders co-ordinate their efforts to successfully resolve an emergency?

Here are some articles I found supporting that the professionals who work at a 9-1-1 Center are in fact, first responders:

Thank you, 9-1-1 Dispatchers – Dispatcher Appreciation Week (Ukiah, CA, Police)

911 dispatchers are not clerical workers (By Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CALIF.)

Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Should dispatchers be officially classified as first responders? (Melissa Mann,

Are 9-1-1 Dispatchers First Responders? (Michelle Perin,

#IAM911 movement changing the perspective toward 9-1-1 telecommunicators (

Behind the Scenes with #IAM911 - The 9-1-1 Telecommunicators' Movement that's Gone In Service In A Big Way (

The FBI Classifies 9-1-1 Centers as First Responder Agencies:

"... First responder agencies, including 911 emergency call and dispatch centers, should build relationships with public health agencies and hospitals; familiarize themselves with the policies, procedures, and resources within their area of responsibility; and make the appropriate notifications..."
Complex Operating Environment – Food and Agriculture – NCTC, DHS, and FBI

With all of this evidence, I think its fair to answer the question "Are 9-1-1 call-takers, dispatchers, and telecommunicators First Responders?" with a resounding YES!


Nicholas Zecher has worked as a 9-1-1 telecommunicator for 11.5 years; prior to that he served as a volunteer firefighter and EMT since 1998; that volunteer work is what brought him into the world of dispatch. “The more and more radio traffic I heard at the Fire Department, the more interested I was in the work that went into taking a chaotic call for help and turning it into a more ordered incident in which help was dispatched.”



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