After the Webinar: Reclassifying 911 Dispatchers as First Responders. Q&A with Sara Weston

Webinar presenter Sara Weston answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Reclassifying 911 Dispatchers as First Responders: What Public Safety Professionals Need to Know. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: I’m concerned that not classifying telecommunicators as first responders means they can strike versus the inability of firefighters and police officers to not strike. Is this true in other states?

Sara Weston: Oh, my! I am not a union expert. I think that’s just that’s different, for wherever you are, if you’re unionized. If not, I do not know the answer to that question, and I’m not going to guess because that would be irresponsible of me. That is a great question, though, for your state 911 office. I wouldn’t ask other States around, because I do think that varies from place to place. So just know that. And I would start with their state 911 office. And again, that’s Googleable, their email and their office email are available on the Internet. So that’s where I would start with that question.


Audience Question: In our state, our groups did not support the bill and said they never would, because you don’t dodge bullets and don’t run into the fires. Not sure job classification would help this mindset, because we don’t face those direct threats, and we never will. So, what has been your experience with sworn and fire employee groups and their support with this kind of legislation? 

Sara Weston: So, I live in Florida. And that’s been huge here, there are 911 centers, that don’t support the legislation. So, as I said at the beginning, job classification, being a first responder is not based on how dangerous your job is. It’s being a lifeline. It’s being a part of that first response. So, I know that’s not going to convince people. This is why it is so important to consider this BLS route because the BLS does not ask for anyone’s opinion. The BLS does not care that the firefighters and the police officers aren’t supporting this effort. It is happening at the state level. There are many states who are not reclassifying at the State level because of lobbyists, because sheriff’s associations are writing to the representatives and saying, “Don’t do this, don’t do this,” I hate that. That makes me incredibly angry. But that’s not going to stop the BLS from reclassifying 911 professionals as first responders. So, if that’s an issue you’re running into, I would not stop fighting. I would not stop trying to refute what they’re saying, but there’s not much that we can do. They often have more money, more lobbyists, or more pool right? It’s just a fact. So, I would continue to work on elevating 911 as a profession, and if we’re not going to change their minds, we’re going to change the minds of the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Audience Question: If we write our representatives should it be our federal reps? State reps? Both? And what’s an outline of what we should cover? 

Sara Weston: Both. You should write both. Might as well while you’re at it, right? So, when you write your State representative that’ll work towards the state-wide reclassification, and then writing your federal reps will support the 911 SAVES Act, which is the Federal legislation. So, this document. Hold on. I’m going to scroll because I could sit there and like that like spout off to you things you should put in there. Scan this, go to, and click on the fourth one, which is advocacy strategy. That is going to outline so many things. There are sample letters in there. There are several sample letters, both federal and state, that you can kind of look through and just pick what applies to you and use that kind of as a template, and then just go with it. Scan right now before you forget.


Audience Question: Apparently, New Orleans has recently removed 911 professionals from their call center and replaced them with non-911 call takers who read from a script. Our audience members would love your thoughts on this and the use of AI technology in lieu of 911 professionals. 

Sara Weston: I could do a whole webinar. Yeah, AI is a huge thing right now. And I’ll just tell you my opinion on what I’ve learned, what I’ve researched. AI, they’re looking to use that to reduce the number of admin calls that 911 professionals are taking. So, if your center is… if like 70% of your calls at your center are admin calls, that is huge in staffing. That’s huge in burnout. You can’t get to the emergencies like it’s a problem, right? So, I don’t know the specifics of New Orleans at all. So, I can’t really comment on what’s going on there. But generally, the push for AI is to help triage administrative calls. So not 911 calls, 10-digit number calls. It doesn’t exactly answer your question, but it gives you a little more food for thought. And there are so many companies doing webinars on AI right now – Prepared, Carbyne. It’s like almost every time I go on LinkedIn, I see all these free webinars happening. So, you know, if you reach those 2 companies in particular, if you research AWS – Amazon Web Services, if you kind of Google them and research what they’re doing, there’s a lot of free information out there.


Audience Question: Could you define what a first responder state actually is? 

Sara Weston: First responder state?

Host: Maybe it’s referring to the map that you showed a couple of slides ago? That’s my guess.

Sara Weston: Very simply. These are states that have a bill that they’ve passed. That says 911 professionals are first responders. It means something different in every single state, but they’ve passed a bill. That’s what this map represents. They’ve officially passed a bill in their state legislature that says 911 professionals are first responders in that state.


Audience Question: The Illinois State Police is not an EMD or PSAP center. They continue to tell us that they would not be considered in the reclassification. Do you think this is true? 

Sara Weston: I’ll tell you what I understand about that question, and please correct me if I’m wrong. So, the Illinois State Police, I’m assuming, do not take 911 calls. I’m not familiar with Illinois, typically, when you have state patrol, the 911 calls are answered at a center and then transferred to the State Highway Patrol. So perhaps they have dispatchers, meaning they’re not answering 911 calls, but they’re taking the information and dispatching. I do not think that there should be a difference between call-taking and dispatching. That’s why you probably noticed I was using the term 911 professionals when I speak because some are call takers, some are dispatchers, some are both in one center, some are cross-trained, and I believe that they should all be first responders because again, they’re a vital link in that chain of emergency response. So, Illinois might not agree with me. The legislature in Illinois might say, “Well, only call takers,” which I hope is not the case, and I know there are a lot of smart people in Illinois who can help with that. But if it were, if it came to Federal reclassification, it would be call figures and dispatchers, be classified as first responders.


Audience Question: Should first responder experience be a requirement to be a 911 professional? 911 call takers can be supervised by a first responder. 

Sara Weston: So, okay, what I love is when like a police, fire, EMS person comes and sits in a 911 center and experiences what they’re what they’re doing, that would be great. But having that as a requirement, there is already this huge staffing shortage, right? So, it’s hard to say, “Well, you need experience being an EMT, or you need experience being a firefighter or police officer to come work in the dispatch center.” And also, if you’re a police officer and you want to be a police officer… There are police officers that come and become 911 professionals, but it’s just like at this point in our time, it’s so hard to get people that you…

It’s better right now to train them as much as we can, to have them do ride-a-longs with the police, to have them do ride-a-longs in the ambulance, with the fire. You know as much as you can. But like right now, it’s just there’s so much understaffing that I think would take a long time to implement, and also that would be up to each 911 center. There’s no standard training, there’s no standard requirements across the country for 911, it is a very local decision. So, there’s no authority to tell people this is what you must do. This is how you must train at the moment. So, while that sounds great, I think that would be great for 911 professionals to have that experience. It’s just not feasible right now, in my opinion.


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