SOUTHEAST KANSAS — This week is National Public Safety Telecommunicators week.
A time of year where we celebrate the efforts of 911 dispatchers across the country. Even more important this year for dispatchers in Kansas.
Despite being the first to being on the frontline of emergencies, nationally 911 dispatchers aren’t recognized as first responders. This year it’s different, thanks to the efforts of people all over Kansas, including some from Labette County.
Marti Shields, Parsons Police Department Communications Director, said, “It’s been a big step for us that needed to happen a long time ago.”
National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is a little more special this year for the state of Kansas. Across the majority of the country, 911 dispatchers are recognized as clerical workers. But in Kansas, that will change thanks to House Bill 2435.
Brandy Grassl, Labette County Emergency Management Coordinator, said, “Which showed telecommunicators to be recognized as first responders, but it ended up being a part of the Emergency Management Bill.”
The conversation had gone on for years, with some dispatchers suffering from PTSD.
“There’s a lot of calls that our dispatchers take that are very, we may not be there on scene, but it does stick with us mentally all the time,” said Shields.
When the emergency management act was approved, it brought benefits and a platform to those dispatchers.
“It makes us eligible for the exact same benefits that law enforcement and fire when it comes to vaccines or PPE or those other things that are brought up that at first no body knew if 911 dispatchers should or shouldn’t be included because it wasn’t in statute,” said Grassl.
And for those like the Parsons Police Department, as calls continue to grow, this platform was needed more than ever.
“Our call volume has gone way up, way up. Usually there’s one dispatcher at a time and then Monday through Friday, or if I need to fill in, I can go in and help dispatch,” said Sheilds.
Benefitting those on the forefront of emergencies.
“We’re the first responder to the first responder. We’re kind of the sometimes unrecognized heroes between the radio and the phone.”
Kansas joins five other states in classifying their dispatchers as first responders. This includes Texas, California, West Virginia, Iowa, and Indiana. At the national level, the 911 Saves Act Hopes to do the same and make dispatchers first responders.