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911 dispatchers hoping to get designated as first responders through HB 291

Posted at 6:42 PM, Mar 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-17 18:42:23-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — 911 dispatchers are the first people to answer the call when there's an emergency, but they're not considered first responders like their peers.

Arthur Kirby has been a dispatcher for 35 years. He's also a board member with the Florida Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

He's been working on House Bill 291 since last year to change the designation of dispatchers to first responders.

"We would like to be included with our peers and our partners and the law enforcement and public safety arena. We feel we contribute equally," Kirby said.

State Representative Allison Tant is a sponsor of House Bill 291. She along with 23 co-sponsors agree, getting dispatchers the designation will help with recruitment and other resources they don't currently have access to.

"Which of course will lead to our citizens be better served and of course the pay and of course the other provision which allows for 911 dispatchers to have access to more mental health resources," Representative Tant said.

Kim Powell, Behavioral Health Wellness Coordinator for the Consolidated Dispatch Agency, says Leon county has found ways to provide mental health resources to dispatchers.

"We can provide resources and avenues to mitigate that stress and then it can have a more healthy person who can be more effective at their job," Powell said.

But Powell says dispatchers being designated as first responders is necessary.

"Not having that designation creates a disparity as far as the development and implementation of funding, of consideration for workers compensation," Powell explained.

Kirby says he's near retirement and hopes to leave things better for people who come after him.

"I want to know that the people that come before me are taken care of and that our community is safe," Kirby said.

According to State Representative Tant, there are several committees the bill has to go through over the next two weeks.

There's no timeline on when it will be heard on the house floor though.