Bill in Congress could reclassify 911 dispatchers as first responders

FRANKLIN, Ind. – A bill is making its way through Congress that would recognize 911 dispatchers as first responders. It is called the 911 SAVES Act and it is getting a lot of support from a dispatch center in Johnson County.

U.S. Representatives Norma J. Torres (D-CA), a former 911 dispatcher, and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), a former FBI Special Agency, introduced the bipartisan bill. Right now, a federal database by the Office of Management and Budget classifies 911 dispatchers as clerical workers–the same category as secretaries, office clerks and taxicab dispatchers.

Adrian Woodrum, a 911 dispatcher in Johnson County, says it’s not the average desk job.

“I heard her last words and that kind of hangs on you a bit,” said Woodrum. “I leave knowing I did everything I  could to help her and it still didn’t work.”

Woodrum must accurately send police officers, paramedics and firefighters to people who need help fast.

“To be clarified as a clerk or as a secretary, it is just not it. To say it is not enough, it is just not,” he said.

911 SAVES Act passed the House. If it becomes law, it would mean better benefits for 911 dispatchers. However, the team in Johnson County said it is not about the money.

“It is a lot about the recognition of the work that is being done by our 911 operators every day,” said Heath Brant, 911 Director in Johnson County.

Texas has a new law that gives 911 dispatchers this recognition. If change does not happen at the federal level, some hope to see other states take this on too.

“We may not be on the scene itself but our influence is the first on the scene,” said Brant.

Most people do not see them as they try to save lives. They feel their work deserves to be acknowledged.

“Consider the types of calls we do take and the things we go through,” said Woodrum.

The Indiana Statewide 911 Board said it is paying attention to any possible changes. It is also watching other states, like Texas, to understand what they are doing. The 911 board is also a resource for legislators who have questions.

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