Pitkin County is elevating the status of its 911 dispatchers to first responders in a move that outpaces a similar effort on the national level.
“We couldn’t wait for the bill that is stalled in Congress to give our dispatchers the job classification of First Responders that they have earned and deserve,” Emergency Dispatch 911 Commander Brett Loeb said in a press release announcing the reclassification. “Emergency dispatchers are every bit as critical in managing a crisis as our law enforcement officers, paramedics, and firefighters are and they are equally impacted emotionally. They should be recognized for that.”
Pitkin County is the first county in Colorado, and among the first in the nation, to take this step. The state of Texas elevated dispatcher status earlier this summer. The U.S. government classifies dispatchers as administrative and clerical in nature. The 911 Saves Act is currently before Congress and when approved would upgrade the classification 911 dispatchers to match that of all first responders.
All Pitkin County 911 dispatchers are trained in emergency medical dispatch, qualifying them to offer a variety of potentially lifesaving instructions, including CPR, bleeding control, choking treatment, childbirth and airway maintenance over the telephone until paramedics arrive on the scene. In the first six months of 2019, Pitkin County emergency dispatchers gave such medical guidance to over 200 callers. Also this year, six Pitkin County 911 dispatchers were recognized for their roles in saving the lives of three people who suffered cardiac arrest in the Roaring Fork Valley and coached a mother in labor to a healthy delivery.
Elevating dispatcher status to first responder will not only give them a more prestigious job description, it could give them access to other perks afforded first responders like better access to mental health services and grants for training.
“Emergency dispatchers have been doing first-responder-level work for years and while the increased access to benefits is great, it’s really about the pride and recognition that comes with first responder in their job descriptions that means the world to my staff,” Loeb said.
Earlier this summer, the Pitkin County Public Safety Council, made up of 18 public safety and public safety support agencies within the Roaring Fork Valley, unanimously resolved to support the 911 Saves Act.
“All of the agencies who work with our dispatch center already consider them ‘the first, first responders,’ as their information and instructions are critical to keeping our citizens and our field units safe,” Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said in the press release. “It is my pleasure to make this permanent change to their status in Pitkin County. It’s our hope that this action will inspire other counties and municipalities across the nation to follow suit and truly take care of the ones who take care of everyone else.”
Pitkin County commissioners formally recognized the new status of Pitkin County 911 dispatchers with a joint sheriff’s office/Pitkin County proclamation at their regular meeting last week.