Each day, 911 dispatchers respond to emergency calls for first responders, obtain and sort through vital information from people facing emergencies, give life-saving instructions and try to calm callers in distress. These emergency dispatchers, like first responders in the field, may suffer from mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder. But insufficient attention and resources are afforded to 911 dispatchers for this potential personal injury issue.
Some agencies have two people respond to 911 calls. First, the call taker who spends their shifts listening to callers seeking help. The other person is the dispatcher who send police, firefighters and paramedics to the emergency. Some agencies have one person perform both roles.
Telecommunicators, according to a VICE magazine article, feel that they are not respected by the police and firefighters who work with them. These dispatchers, nonetheless, work in an environment with long hours and deal with traumatic events that they repeatedly rerun in their thoughts. They said that they do not receive commendation for their work.
A survey of 911 call-takers and dispatchers in Virginia in 2019 revealed alarming statistics. These public safety communicators were more than twice as likely as the general population to have suicidal thoughts.
Emergency dispatcher personnel suffer with PTSD as compared to eight percent of the general population. A psychologist who researched 911 telecommunicators claims that 17 to 24 percent of these communicators suffer with this condition.
Untreated PTSD can cause avoidance coping behaviors. These include binge drinking, avoidance of social situations and poor eating. This stress and being sedentary for long periods of time during long work shifts also causes weight problems. One study revealed that approximately 83 percent of dispatchers are overweight or obese.
Their long hours also have an impact on their morale. Time shifts constantly change. These shifts make it more difficult for responders to taking care of their health.
But telecommunicators, in general, do not have access to resources offered to other first responders. For example, police, firefighters and paramedics meet as a group with a facilitator to talk though traumatic calls.
More can be done to support dispatchers. Training can help prepare for them their job’s challenges. PTSD should be acknowledged as being treatable.
The 911 SAVES Act was recently introduced in the US House of Representatives. If enacted, 911 telecommunication would be reclassified as the protective service occupation which covers firefighters, paramedics and police officers.
This bill would also provide access to benefits like early retirement and give them the recognition afforded other first responders. There is bi-partisan support for this proposal which also faces some opposition from dispatch agencies and local governments which are concerned about new costs.
These responders, like other first-responders, face many work-related health problems that are not shared by the public. Experience and knowledge is required to assure that health issues, particularly mental health, are addressed and compensated.
An attorney can help public safety employees seek compensation for their injuries. Legal representation can help assure that they are afforded their rights under California law.