Senate bill will define 911 dispatchers as first responders

Betsy PriceGovernment, Headlines


A bill in General Assembly would finally recognize 911 dispatchers as first responders, recognizing their training and importance. Photo by Jane Grn/Pexels

A bill that defines 911 dispatchers as first responders drew no opposition Wednesday in the Senate Corrections and Public Safety Committee.

The remarkably short Senate Bill 36, sponsored by Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos, D-Elsmere, was also the first bill to be heard in the new committee.

It is expected to pass, but the results won’t be known until the vote is posted later Wedneday on the state’s bill tracker. Senate committees. whose members are fond of saying they support transparency in government, do not vote in public.

The bill will change state code to say add that a 911 dispatcher means “a first responder working in any 911 dispatch center who is responsible for responding to calls for emergency and non-emergency assistance and dispatching law enforcement, fire-fighting, rescue, or emergency medical units.”

The move appears to bind dispatchers to confidentiality of communications by first responders for critical incident stress management services as it recognizes their importance as the first contact for callers experiencing an emergency.

Committee members hailed the move.

Sen. Dave Wilson, R-Milford/Bridgeville, said it was long overdue.

“They’re so professional, you know,” he said.

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Brandy Cahall, a 911 dispatcher for Delaware State Police for 18 years and a representative of Community Workers of American Union, said one reason to see dispatchers as first responders is because of the amount of technology that must be mastered to handle calls.

“It’s definitely a job, more of a career than anything,” she said.

Dispatchers respond

Saul Polish, who is starting his 29th year as a 911 dispatcher with the New Castle County office, said he expected to make a career of the job when he started.

“Looking back today, I never knew what the possibilities of that career was going to be,” he told the committee. “It warms my heart to hear all the positive things that are being said today.”

It also bothered him that it took so long for dispatchers to get the recognition and respect, he said.

Dispatchers started to push the definition adding them to the list of first responders in 2021, he said. Dispatchers are still trying to win that first-responder recognition from federal and international sources, he said.

“We are more than just clerical,” he said.

The industry does constant training and even offers a 40-hour introductory course so that someone thinking about applying for a job knows exactly what they are getting into.

“So I just want to say that I thank you for this opportunity,” he said.

Jeffrey Miller, chief of the New Castle County Emergency Communications Division, also known as 911, noted that state law requires all medical calls to be  handled by a nationally accredited and certified 911 center trained in the use of priority dispatch medical protocols.

The state’s three largest centers are all nationally accredited in the call-taking process for medical, he said. Other centers are working toward that.

Rules consider a taxi cab dispatcher to be in the protected class of employees, he pointed out, “but they do not consider our personnel to be protected class as they are not first responders.”


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