Morgan County joins nationwide effort in attempt to classify 911 operators as first responders

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 9:38 PM CST
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MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) - We know how essential police and firefighters are in emergencies, but someone has to take the call to send them there.

Morgan County Commission passes resolution supporting change.
Morgan County Commission passes resolution supporting change.(WAFF)

We went to Morgan County to look at the push to classify 911 operators as first responders, and the difference it makes for them.

“It’s very difficult to help someone have a baby in the back seat of their car, you hear the first cries of that baby. And then the next call you take is someone who’s mad because their neighbor is mowing their lawn. And then later on in the same day in the same shift, somebody’s begging you for help and you’re listening to them take their last breath. And then you go home with that and you come back the next day and do it all over again,” Morgan County 911 director Jeanie Pharis said.

On Tuesday, the Morgan County Commission passed a resolution, supporting a nationwide effort to recognize 911 operators as first responders. But in order for that to actually happen, either federal or state lawmakers will have to pass legislation.

Changing the classification from an office administrative work to a protective service status would come with benefits, such as mental health resources, better insurance and potentially better pay.

“It qualifies us for more assistance in ways. It will help us get things that people overlook. Firefighters, police, EMTs, there’s mental health assistance for them, there’s insurance assistance for them, that’s not there for dispatchers,” Kristi Graham said.

Kristi Graham is a lead dispatcher for Morgan County. She says the job is a rewarding, but often challenging one.

“We answer the call. We are the first, first responder. Because we answer that call to get the help to them. In the county sometimes because they’re so far out it can take 20 minutes to get an ambulance there. And that’s because of how far they live out. So we’re on the phone with them, giving them that guidance for 20 minutes,” she explained.

Pharis says she believes the change would also help retain employees.

“You have to take care of your own, and that’s one of the things if we can reduce turnover, 911 centers have some of the highest turnover when it comes to basically any kind of employment.”

Pharis expects it to be discussed in the next legislative session.

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