Kathy Hochul 911 Operator Bill

WITH THE STROKE OF A PEN, RESPECT: Governor Hochul signs into law a measure giving 911 operators and dispatchers statewide first-responder status, something their unions believe will enhance their stature and gain them benefits that reflect the stresses of their jobs.

Governor Hochul Sept. 11 signed legislation that designates the state's 911 operators and dispatchers as "first- responders," a status their unions had long sought.

Boosters of the law said it will help local and county governments obtain Federal grants, elevate the stature of the job and ensure the affected employees are covered by future legislation addressing occupational health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Job Can Take Toll

A 2012 Northern Illinois University national research study found that dispatchers handling high-stress calls involving suicide attempts, abused children, and fatal shootings were at an elevated risk of experiencing mental-health issues.

Ms. Hochul said the legislation would help "emergency dispatchers and communications personnel who keep us safe today" by giving them "the support and benefits they deserve."

District Council 37 Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriquez, who represents city 911 employees, said, "This action sends a very important message that those who labor under very stressful and traumatic circumstances are recognized, valued and entitled to services that will allow them to do their jobs more effectively with less turnover."

"Emergency Operators and Dispatchers are undoubtedly the first responders of first-responders, serving at the center of emergency events, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees  President Daniel C. Levler, who represents that county's 911 personnel. "Just recently, Suffolk 911 Operators played a critical role during Tropical Storm Ida, answering 911 calls for relatives whose family members in Queens who were trapped in their basements."

'Gratified by Signing'

"We are extremely gratified by the signing of this bill that recognizes the critical, life-saving work performed by New York's emergency dispatchers and communications personnel," said Faye Smith, president of the Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association.

"We feel great pride and respect being included as first-responders," said Kelly Donoghue, President of the New York 911 Coordinators Association

State Sen. John Brooks, one of the bill's prime sponsors, said in a statement, "Without question, all public-safety dispatchers, emergency responders, emergency operators, emergency complaint operators, and emergency services dispatchers are first responders."

The bill's prime Assembly sponsor, Peter Abbate, said "they truly deserve the recognition that this bill affords them."

Low Pay, High Turnover

According to Local 1549, which represents close to 1,500 NYPD 911 Operators, the starting salary for the title is $20.90 an hour, which translates to $21,059 for the first year. After two years, the pay increases to $26,043. A trained Radio Dispatcher, another Local 1549 title, gets $28.30 an hour.

Though 911 work is considered stressful, pay and benefits have been on the lower end of the civil-service scale.  During Gov. George E. Pataki's tenure, which ended 15 years ago, the local gained a pension provision allowing 911 operators to retire after 25 years of service, regardless of age.

Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that "low pay and high stress was contributing to a shortage of 911 operators...across the nation," with an annual turnover rate of 10 percent.

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