Recognition of emergency dispatchers and operators as “First Responders”—a long-sought goal of local legislators—was approved by the governor during a special 9-11 ceremony that recognized the importance of these front-line workers.
“It was clear all through the legislative process that emergency dispatchers and operators were due the proper recognition and support for the important work they do in keeping us safe,” said state Assemblyman Joe DeStefano, a member of the Suffolk legislative delegation who rallied support for the bill. “Day in and day out, these public safety experts demonstrate their value, especially during crises such as 9-11 and the emergencies many of us could face at some point in our lives. We have now demonstrated our appreciation and support for them.”
The First Responder allows emergency dispatchers to receive vital training opportunities and apply for benefits and protections, as well as assistance in coping with the mental and physical symptoms suffered as a result trauma and other pressure from the job, DeStefano explained.
Dan Leveler, president of the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees, pushed for the bill alongside the state legislative delegation. “Dispatchers are the nucleus of any emergency event,” Levler said. “They send out the first wave of help while simultaneously providing life-saving instructions. There was never any doubt that they are first responders.”
Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio also supported the bill. She reported that thousands of job openings in emergency operations will be available in the future with not enough qualified and willing participants to fill them. “We are facing a staffing shortage as it is due to the previous failure to recognize dispatchers as first responders,” she said. “This resulted in inadequacies in wages, work environments, training, and services for those at high-risk. This recognition is necessary to maintain the high level of emergency services the public expects.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who signed the legislation during a special 9-11 ceremony in Manhattan, stating in a release: “These laws will help not only first responders who were at the World Trade Center on that terrible day and those who cleaned the site for weeks afterward, but also the emergency dispatchers and communications personnel who keep us safe today. We will ensure they receive the support and benefits they deserve.”
The governor also approved bills enabling first responders to apply for online benefits and expanding the definition of those who responded to the World Trade Center attacks for the purpose of joining the state retirement system.
DeStefano, who served in the Suffolk Sheriff's office for 27 years as a public safety communications supervisor, said he is well aware of the importance of these workers are to the emergency management system. “They are the first to answer a call for help and are a calming, knowledgeable presence in the time of an emergency. They are engaged at the very beginning of any emergency event and provide life-saving assistance. This bill shows that we care about them as much as they care about us.”
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