911 Operators Could Be Considered First Responders Under New Bill in NY

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New York State lawmakers passed 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, such as enabling the dispatchers and operators to receive key benefits to mitigate the stress and trauma often incurred through the rigorous demands of their jobs, proponents say. 

“Emergency operators and dispatchers are undoubtedly the first responders of first responders, serving at the center of emergency events,24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees President Daniel C. Levler, who represents more than 200 emergency dispatchers and operators within local police, fire, sheriff, and emergency services departments. “These essential emergency workers exercise quick-thinking decisions, counseling, and guidance that frequently makes the critical difference between life and death before help arrives.”

Several other states are considering similar legislation while a bill that would make the same change nationwide is pending in Congress. Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not sign the bill into law before resigning amid an impeachment inquiry and Gov. Kathy Hochul has not indicated if she will put pen to paper yet.

“This is a recognition bill,” State Assemblyman Joseph DeStefano (R-Medford), a former emergency dispatcher in the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department who proposed the bill, has said. “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.”

For example, Stephanie Burkowinski, a member of Suffolk County’s Fire Rescue and Emergency Services, recently helped a woman deliver her baby during a 911 call. 

“Our emergency dispatchers and operators save lives,” said Levler, whose union has more than 6,000 members. “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 childbirth.”

State Sen. John E. Brooks (D-Massapequa), who sponsored the bill in the senate, agreed.

“New York’s emergency operators and dispatchers provide invaluable services to us all,” said  Brooks. “It is long past time we remove existing roadblocks that prevent these essential emergency workers from providing the full range of support they can give and denying them of benefits they deserve. Without question, all public safety dispatchers, emergency responders, emergency operators, emergency complaint operators, and emergency services dispatchers are first responders, and it is crucial to the safety and welfare of New York State that they are recognized as such.”

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