Bill Would Designate 911 Operators as First Responders

New York State Assemblyman Joseph DeStefano (R-Medford) attends a news conference in Bohemia on Thursday, May 14, 2020.

New York State lawmakers representing Long Island have proposed a bill that would designate as first responders the emergency operators and dispatchers within police, fire, and emergency services departments.

The designation would make the dispatchers and operators eligible for the same protections, benefits, and training opportunities afforded to other first responders but would have no fiscal impact on taxpayers, proponents say.

“This is a recognition bill,” freshman New York State Assemblyman Joseph DeStefano (R-Medford) told reporters Thursday during a news conference in Bohemia. “There’s no reason why they can’t be considered first responders and get recognized as first responders because they’re doing exactly the same work that first responders do, only in a different way.”

Several other states are considering similar legislation while a bill that would make the same change nationwide is pending in Congress. 

“The Homeland Security Act of 2002 defines first responders as individuals in the first stages of an incident who are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment,” said Trina Hubner, Suffolk County Police Department 911 Center supervisor. “We serve at the start of this process and appreciate the effort to grant us this recognition.”

Suffolk alone has more than 200 emergency dispatchers and operators within local police, fire, sheriff, and emergency services departments.

The bill, which was proposed last month in both chambers of the state Legislature and has yet to be voted on in either the state Asssemly or state Senate health commmitees, has bipartisan support. But DeStefano, a former emergency dispatcher in the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, notes that it will be difficult to get the bill passed before the legislative session ends in June since the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in meetings being canceled. 

“It is critical we recognize all the members of our community who are working on the frontlines to fight this pandemic,” said state Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who is co-sponsoring the bill in the state Senate. “Dispatchers are the first sound of calmness when someone calls during an emergency. They are the first to send assistance when it is critically needed. We should ensure they are properly classified with the rest of our frontline heroes, and are protected accordingly.”

Proponents say the change in designation would enable the dispatchers and operators to receive key benefits to mitigate the stress and trauma often incurred through the rigorous demands of their jobs. 

“These vital government employees truly are the first of the first responders,” said Daniel C. Levler, president of the 6,000-member Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees. “Our emergency dispatchers and operators save lives. They often talk 911 callers through performing lifesaving procedures like CPR before emergency services can even arrive on the scene. They have even helped bring life into the world by talking residents and first responders through emergency child birth.”

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