There are many layers to First Response in Emergency Services. EMS professionals, firefighters, police AND 911-operators work together to make the system work for the safety of our communities. While each title may hold different responsibilities, each one is an integral part of our first response system. From the 911 call to dispatch and an appropriate and timely response of the ambulance, fire truck or police, our communities depend on us to be there. If we lose any one of these entities, our system suffers.
In CPR classes, students are taught that the first vital link in the chain of survival is the activation of the emergency response system, calling 911. The first use of this 3-digit nationwide emergency number in 1968 became that important first step (currently nearly all of the United States has a form of a 911 system); many communities now have an E911 system which helps to pinpoint callers’ locations. Dispatchers do more than just answer phone lines, they will help to decipher the sometimes incoherent cries for help, they dispatch the appropriate resources and relay vital information to the responders, they’ve been able to talk callers through important lifesaving procedures until trained professionals show up, and they help to coordinate mixed-service responses.
NYS 911-operators must go through 240-hours of classroom training and evaluations with lessons in psychology, public safety, disaster response, effective communication, and homeland security before being allowed to answer calls without supervision. In addition, all NYS dispatchers must complete at least 21-hours of in-service training each year. Originally referred to as clerical workers, 911-operators are finally gaining recognition as First Responders. A national drive (House Resolution 1629, 911 Saves Act) seeks to reclassify communications officers from a non-protective service occupation to a protective one in the Standard Occupational Classification system. Some states/municipalities nationwide have already instituted local provisions. The bill would give dispatchers access to PTSD and mental health resources, other training and would improve benefits. Emergency 911 dispatchers are subject to stress, PTSD, and the effects of long hours and shift work.
Responding ambulances, fire services and law enforcement rely on clear communications and, where available, specialized technical skills. All public safety access points (PSAP), 911-call centers, are staffed 24-hours a day and seven days a week. Incoming calls must be answered within ten seconds of connection and the dispatch of the appropriate responding service must be timely. The 911-dispatch information is the lifeline to an emergency response, sometimes the information the dispatcher receives is accurate and sometimes a caller is too incoherent, the dispatcher is trained to stay on the line, (attempt to) calm the caller, and make sure that all necessary resources are made available as soon as possible.
The NYS 911 Coordinators Association, NENA (NYS chapter of the National Emergency Number Association) represents 62 Counties of 911 professionals; the ultimate goal is to provide a safer and faster response for all emergency services. There are several levels of 911-operators, 911 Dispatcher Trainee, Emergency Services Dispatcher, Police Dispatcher, Tele-communicator, Senior Public Safety Dispatcher, Dispatch Coordinator, 911 Operations Coordinator in approximately 70 central dispatch centers in NYS handling literally millions of emergency calls per year for fire, EMS and police; in addition there are many local police agencies that use dispatchers to answer 911-calls.
911 is indeed a vital part of emergency response.