Bill to classify emergency phone operators as first responders advances

DENVER (KDVR) — One bill at the Colorado Capitol was able to get the approval of every representative present on Monday. The measure looks to help one group of emergency workers and is now headed to the Senate for approval.

The first people you talk to in the face of an emergency are not technically classified as first responders. Lawmakers at the Capitol seem to agree on changing that.

Emergency communications specialists work around the clock to make sure people in counties across the state get the help they need. Lawmakers say it’s time their work is acknowledged.

“The bill was presented to me last year in regards to 911 dispatchers being classified as admin personnel, clerical workers. And I’m like, clerical workers? And they say, ‘Yes, and they want to be first responders,’” said state Rep. Sheila Lieder of Jefferson County, a prime sponsor of the bipartisan measure. “I had no idea they were classified as such, as well as many people that I spoke with — they had no idea they were classified that way.”

State representatives unanimously passed the bill to reclassify the specialists as first responders, with 52 of them cosponsoring the measure.

911 dispatcher: We’re the ‘first’ first responder

Laura Robinson, lead emergency communications specialist for 911 in Jefferson County, said the specialists deserve the same respect given to other emergency personnel.

“I don’t think many people think about what it means to be the first first-responder — that’s what we like to refer to it as. To be the person that answered the panic phone call every time. To be the one who experiences the rage, the anger, the fear, you know? The panic,” Robinson said. “I think a lot of people see us as secretaries maybe. And we are not. We are actually the ones providing the lifesaving help that people are calling to get.”

Lieder said she is proud of the support the bill has received, but there is progress to be made for these workers.

“They need to have increased pay. They are having a hard time getting people to stay in that position, and I’ve always said if you lift the wages, they will come. Because it is about dignity and respect,” Lieder said.

“I could not have been more excited. I was very excited. It’s well deserved and long overdue if you ask me,” Robinson said of the bill.

The bill now heads to the Colorado Senate, where supporters are hoping it has the same success it did in the House.

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