APCO Fights for Occupational Reclassification for 9-11 Dispatchers

9-11 dispatchers have long been considered clerical workers, but one group launched an initiative in July to change that perception. The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) is proposing a change to the occupational classification for 9-11 dispatchers. The initiative calls for the dispatchers to be referred to as “Public Safety Telecommunicators” instead of “dispatchers” and to change the classification from “clerical” to “protective.”

Labor policies would not change for the 9-11 dispatchers because of the reclassification, but the occupation would be noted as one that is stressful and saves lives.

In McPherson County, Kansas, assistant director of Emergency Management and Communications, Tim Hawkinson said that dispatchers are required to attend 12 weeks of in-house training before taking a call by themselves. He added that it is approximately 12-18 months before they are fully trained and prepared to handle any type of call.

The APCO said that 9-11 dispatchers are a critical part of the emergency response team and are often speaking with callers who are experiencing life-threatening situations. “The work they perform goes far beyond merely relaying information between the public and first responders,” noted an APCO official.

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APCO’s request was recently rejected by the Office of Management and Budget, stating that the Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee does not code occupations based on the work performed. Based on this policy, 9-11 dispatchers are considered “dispatchers,” not “first responders,” which precludes them from providing advice to callers or talking them through situations.

APCO is not backing down from its quest for reclassification. It recently held a webinar to ask participants to have their voices heard by calling on federal officials to change the classification.

Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) responded to the initiative in a Facebook video, stating that the organization remains “actively involved in this issue.”