When it comes to being a 911 dispatcher, the time of it being considered merely a clerical profession needs to come to an end, according to the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

When it comes to being a 911 dispatcher, the time of it being considered merely a clerical profession needs to come to an end, according to the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

APCO launched an initiative in July to have the standard occupational classification of 911 operators changed from "clerical" to "protective" and refer to them as “Public Safety Telecommunicators” rather than "dispatchers."

While the reclassification would not change any labor policies for 911 workers, APCO states on their website that the work they do is stressful, requires additional training and saves lives.

McPherson County dispatchers undergo 12 weeks of in-house training before they are able to take calls on their own, said Tim Hawkinson, assistant director of Emergency Management and Communications for McPherson County.

"You're looking at a year to 18 months before they're ready for whatever is thrown at them," Hawkinson said.

"Public Safety Telecommunicators play a critical role in emergency response. The work they perform goes far beyond merely relaying information between the public and first responders," APCO noted. "They are often communicating with people in great distress, harm, fear, or injury, while employing their experience and training to recognize a critical piece of information."

"Reclassification of public service dispatchers is important because we're not like bus or taxi dispatchers. There's a lot more training and stress that goes into it," Hawkinson said. "We're dealing with life and death situations."

The Office of Management and Budget recently rejected APCO's recommended reclassification, commenting that the Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee "did not accept these recommendations based on Classification Principle 2, which states that workers are coded according to the work performed. 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 has since held a webinar on reclassifying "Public Safety Telecommunicators" as being part of a protective occupation, inviting participants to "tell federal officials in charge of the reclassification process that they disagree with the current classification of 911 professionals as Office and Administrative Support Occupations."

The issue caught the eye of the public when Ricardo Martinez II, who worked for 13 years as a dispatcher and now hosts the podcast "Within The Trenches" based on those experiences, asked dispatchers to send in their stories and experiences in emails and images, each marked with "#IAM911" to give the world a chance to learn what situations they had faced in their line of work.

"I wanted to share stories from dispatchers and to show how much we differ from commercial dispatchers such as taxi, trucking and clerical workers," Martinez said in a video posted to the podcast's Facebook page. "It is obvious that we differ."

There are currently more than 270 images that relay the thoughts of 911 operators who worked calls from people who had suffered severe injuries, were about to give birth, had just been raped or were considering suicide.

National Emergency Number Association CEO Brian Fontes said in a video posted to the organization's Facebook page that "NENA is very actively involved in this issue," and that 911 communications workers "perform the role of the communicator between and among public safety field responders on the scene who need additional support and help."

"All of my dispatchers support this reclassification," Hawkinson said. "Locally, it doesn't do a whole lot for us, but is import to recognize what we do."

For more information about the reclassification efforts from APCO, visit http://www.apcointl.org.