Dispatchers make #IAM911 social media push

Dispatchers make #IAM911 social media push
(Source: Eric Pointer/ KSLA News 12)
(Source: Eric Pointer/ KSLA News 12)
(Source: "Within the Trenches" podcast via Facebook)
(Source: "Within the Trenches" podcast via Facebook)

BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - A new social media movement is pushing for the job of 911 dispatchers to be reclassified by the government.

Calling 911 usually happens at a time when people are in severe distress. It's the job of the dispatchers on the other end of the phone to keep them calm and get them help.

Right now, the government classifies a 911 dispatcher as a "clerical" position, but the #IAM911 campaign is designed to convince the government that it should be changed to "protective," like police, firefighters and other first responders under the government's Standard Occupational Standards (SOC).

The campaign is in response to a preliminary decision made by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) not to change the classification.

Ricardo Martinez, who was a 911 dispatcher for more than 13 years, recently launched a social media campaign in support of the effort.

"I started with an image on a call that I took a while ago. And it said, 'I heard your last breath the night that you flipped your 4-wheeler,' and then underneath, it said #IAM911," said Martinez.

Martinez is also the creator and host of "Within the Trenches" podcast, which he runs out of his Ft. Wayne, Indiana home.

He said he made the post on August 24 in support of efforts by APCO International and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) are lobbying the government to get them reclassified. They are working to show why the public safety telecommunicators, or PSTs, are different from clerical positions.

As NENA CEO Brian Fontes explained on a YouTube video posted August 29, "What OMB has said to us is that they need information about the job responsibility of a 911 telecommunicator and a dispatcher."

Toward that end, Martinez was inspired to find a way for those stories to be told.

"My movement is just to an effort to assist the both of them, where my team and I are doing our best that we can to share as many stories as possible."

Martinez says the response has been overwhelming and the stories have been gut-wrenching.

"I wanted people to share stories that showed how we differ from clerical workers and commercial dispatchers. And they did," said Martinez. "The emotional stress that comes with the job also comes with most people wanting to hold it in because it may make one look weak if they talk to someone. This movement shows that we are all in it together, they are not alone and some have said that it's therapeutic to share their stories."

Some Bossier Parish 911 dispatchers agree that the position should be reclassified.

"I've had a call before with a child that was trapped in a house. Those are terrible calls to take. None of us like taking those. Those will be the calls that you never forget," said Tina Wrist, who's been a PST for 19 years.

"At the worst part of their life, I'm there with you. And you're upset and panicked and I'm the calm voice," said William Adams.

Adams has been a dispatcher for 11 years. He says they work with police and firefighters to help them get to the scene.

"We're the hub and they're the spokes," said Adams "The fact that we're just listed as clerical I think is a vast understatement of what we do."

He says he hopes a reclassification brings more than recognition, but also more resources to help deal with the stress of the job.

"I think it's vitally important that we get reclassified so that we're thought of too. Not just the police and fire department, granted they're out there on the scene with it, but we're just as much tied into it from in here."

The public comment portion of the request ends September 20.

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