Communications: Disregarded and Denied

March 13, 2018
You are not first responders. You do not administer actual care. Separating you from taxi dispatchers would be too confusing. All reasons the OMB, in their Interim Decision rejected reclassifying public safety telecommunicators as a protective occupation.

It’s been four months since the decision. With the expectation of handling around 200 9-1-1 calls in a shift and five shifts a week for 16 weeks, that would equal around 16,000 calls in the period since the decision. On the other side of the room, it would have been 640 hours of assisting and being the lifeline for field personnel. At the rate of 1 request, be it routine or emergency every 10 minutes (which would be laughably unrealistic where I worked) that would be 3,840 request for assistance since the decision. So according to the decision, as just one public safety telecommunicator (how very nice of the deciding body to at least acknowledge this title), splitting my time between 9-1-1 and radio, I would have done 9,920 secretarial tasks. Secretarial.

I haven’t been able to write about the decision until now because I’ve spent the last four months just processing it. Processing the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) blatant disregard of the recommendations of all professional organizations, legislators (some of which worked in the trenches with us) and even Rear Admiral (ret.) David Simpson, Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has taken me this long. Instead of listening to industry experts, the OMB slammed closed a ten year door keeping us classified as Administrative and Secretarial. They said, with their decision, “No, you are not first responders. You are not a Protective Service Occupation.” I, for one, am so insulted I can spit.

The Association of Public-safety Communications Officials (APCO) was a leader in the fight and one of the biggest proponents of the reclassification. They rallied the troops, got information to the OMB and spent countless hours specifically documenting how and why we should be reclassified as a protective service. It wasn’t just a vague, “we think we’re amazing first responders.” It was based on cold, hard facts. They showed a historic time-line of how the work of public safety telecommunicators has changed over the years. APCO’s time, effort and valid arguments, along with all the other supporting documentations should have been enough to convince a group of non-public safety people that we don’t sit at a switchboard connecting Mrs. Smith to Mr. Smith to bring home milk. We are the first line of response for public safety emergencies. We. Are. The. First. First. Responder. But, I’m singing to the choir. Let me just outline the reasons OMB decided against reclassification. Then you can let this sink in.

After their July 22, 2017 Interim decision, the OMB Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) website stated this reason for rejecting the current recommendations for reclassification:

“The work performed is that of a dispatcher, not a first responder. Most dispatchers are precluded from administering actual care, talking someone through procedures, or providing advice. Moving the occupation to the Protective Services major group is not appropriate and separating them from the other dispatchers would be confusing. Also, dispatchers are often located in a separate area from first responders and have a different supervisory chain.”

APCO submitted formal comments on September 20th disputing this statement. APCO commented:

“Public Safety Telecommunicators provide lifesaving advice, information gathering and analysis that protects the public and first responders. The work they perform goes beyond merely receiving requests and dispatching resources. It’s life or death, and the current representation in the SOC does a disservice to them, as well as to the statistical purposes for which the SOC is designed.”

“[The federal committee] was wrong when it concluded that ‘Most dispatchers are precluded from administering actual care, ‘talking’ someone through procedures, or providing advice.’”

“[The federal committee’s reasoning] is inconsistent with the SOC classification principles and current makeup of the Protective Service Occupations [category] … and [they] should only be considering the nature of the work performed by Public Safety Telecommunicators and whether their lifesaving work is a protective service.”

“Reclassifying Public Safety Telecommunicators as Protective Service Occupations would correct an inappropriate representation in the SOC, recognize these professionals for the lifesaving work they perform and better align the SOC with related classification systems.”

Regardless of all the support and evidence contradicting their Interim Decision, on November 28, 2017, the OMB threw us a bone by changing our name to Public Safety Telecommunicator but rejected the most important part: reclassification. In the last two days, I have congratulated a friend who was just hired by a public safety telecommunications organization wishing her well and telling her to practice good self-care as she begins this rewarding career. Then I read the words of other friends who are public safety telecommunication veterans as they tried to process a number of tragedies they’ve worked over the last few days including police shootings, child neglect and homicide. All around the country, public safety telecommunicators are doing lifesaving work. Maybe in ten years, the next group at OMB will be wise enough to recognize that. Until then, remember that you are first responders and not everyone has forgotten that.

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