Emergency dispatchers and operators continue to work on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic, but are not considered “First Responders.” That will change under a bill announced by Assemblyman Joe DeStefano at a press conference with the emergency workers and local officials.
“As our world practically ground to a halt, when the call went out for help, these are the people who answered, and made sure help was on its way,” DeStefano said at the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees headquarters in Bohemia. “This state legislation will designate them as First Responders, a recognition they deserve.”
“Emergency Operators and Dispatchers are undoubtably the first responders of first responders, serving at the nucleus of emergency events, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” said AME President Daniel C. Levler. “These essential emergency telecommuters exercise quick-thinking decisions, counseling, and guidance that frequently makes the critical difference between life and death before help arrives.”
Under DeStefano’s bill, First Responders will include public safety dispatchers, emergency responders, emergency operators, emergency complaint operators and emergency services dispatchers within police and sheriff's departments as well as fire, rescue and emergency services operations.
“The designation will put the communication specialists on par with the emergency service personnel they work with,” noted Assemblyman Tony Palumbo, a co-sponsor of the bill. “This will elevate the importance of these frontline workers to improve training, work environments, and wages. ”
The bill sponsors also pointed out that the designation will improve recruitment to these positions at a time when departments face staffing shortages and retention issues. “This will help ensure that we have qualified people in these positions and protect departments from a liability standpoint.”
“Taking emergency calls requires significant training and competence including sound judgment, multi-tasking and teamwork skills,” said Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. “They dispatch police, fire and medical first responders and serve as their communication partners. Our dispatchers and operators have a high level of responsibility and should be recognized for their role in keeping us safe.”
Also supporting the bill is Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino, who pointed out that these communications specialists work with computer-aided dispatch systems and other technical equipment. “These highly trained individuals keep our critical emergency management systems in operation 24/7 and must be recognized for their expertise.”
“The Homeland Security Act of 2002 defines ‘First Responders’ as individuals in the first stages of an incident who are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence and the environment,” pointed out Trina Hubner, Suffolk County Police Department 911 Center Supervisor. “We serve at the start of this process and appreciate the effort to grant us this recognition.”
“As a Public Safety communication supervisor in the Suffolk Sheriff's office for 27 years, l know first-hand how important these dedicated individuals are to our emergency management system,” DeStefano said. “They are the first to respond to a call for help and are a calming, knowledgeable presence in the time of an emergency. They make sure help arrives.”
Other attendees at today’s press conference were AME Members: Caitlin Chandler – Public Safety Dispatcher in the Suffolk County Police Emergency Unit, Joe DeStefano, Jr. – Public Safety Dispatcher in Suffolk County’s Sheriff’s Department, Gerty McAllister – Public Safety Dispatcher in Suffolk County’s Police Emergency Unit, Jackie Moran – Emergency Services Dispatcher in Suffolk County’s Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services, Nicole Panhurst – Public Safety Dispatcher in the Sheriff’s Department, and Jeanne Zarro- Public Safety Dispatcher in Suffolk County’s Police Emergency Unit.
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