Board urges dispatchers be classified as first responders
December 25, 2019
The Tucumcari/Quay Regional Emergency Communications Board passed a resolution last week urging that emergency dispatchers be classified as first responders instead of clerical workers.
The resolution stated such dispatchers are “critical” to the public safety, make “life-saving split-second decisions” and “without them, public safety would not be possible.”
The document stated dispatchers are not recognized by the federal government as a protected classification and has deemed them clerical staff. A bill, the 911 Saves Act, pending in Congress would reclassify emergency dispatchers as “911 telecommunicators.”
Jamie Luaders, a board member and director of the Tucumcari/Quay Regional Emergency Communications Center, noted Texas classifies dispatchers as first responders. She said the reclassification would enable such workers to have more access to mental-health resources as first responders do.
Luaders said she hopes other counties, including the Quay County Commission, follows suit with similar resolutions and that the New Mexico Legislature follows Texas’ lead to reclassify the positions. Lea County on Wednesday approved a similar resolution.
“We’re trying to get more support for the resolution throughout the state so hopefully we can be more like Texas and reclassify,” she said.
Luaders said Tucumcari’s emergency dispatchers are paid $12.03 an hour, with an annual cost-of-living increase if the county approves it. She said “dispatchers aren’t paid what they’re worth” and wouldn’t complain if a groundswell of similar resolutions resulted in pay raises as well as more benefits.
The board’s chairman, Logan Police Chief Rodney Paris, said he hatched the idea for the resolution about two months ago.
“Our dispatchers are an underappreciated key element of our first response at our 911 center,” he said. “They work extremely hard; they deal with a lot of difficult times and stressful situations. There’s a nationwide movement to recognize them as first responders. I thought this (resolution) was a very simple and effective way to be able to show their importance to the first-response community.”
Paris said he wouldn’t object if the legislature reclassified dispatchers, but he said that wasn’t his first motivation.
“My purpose wasn’t to start a movement,” he said. “It was more for us as a board to recognize our people and their importance. I think it’s important we recognize the stress the men and women are under when someone else (calling) is having their very worst day. That dispatcher is the very first person they talk to when they pick up the phone and dial 911.”
Paris said the fact first responders arrived at the scene of a shooting less than 90 seconds after it happened earlier this month at the Pizza Hut in Tucumcari showed how effective dispatchers are. He said the dispatcher working that night also was dealing with a traffic accident near Logan about the same time.
“Mulitasking is an understatement on what they do,” he said.
The Tucumcari/Quay Regional Emergency Communications Center covers all of Quay and Harding counties, plus part of San Miguel County in the Conchas Lake area.