SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — In an emergency, it’s probably the first number you’ll call. That’s why Springfield-Greene County 911 dispatchers are saying they should be considered “first responders.”
There’s a chance that could happen, as a bill is being proposed in Jefferson City that would put 911 dispatchers in the emergency response group.
Currently, nine fire departments and 13 law enforcement agencies around Greene County rely on 911 dispatchers. Deputy Paige Rippee says this includes the Greene County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO).
“They’re our lifeline,” Rippee said. “The communication between a patrol deputy or an officer is crucial.”
Rippee says a dispatcher sends her team a call and tells them about possible hazards. Hazards may include if multiple officers need to respond, or if someone hasn’t been friendly with law enforcement before.
“We work hand-in-hand with them,” Rippee said.
So does the Springfield Police Department (SPD). Every week, SPD talks with Springfield-Greene County 911 dispatchers about ways either side could improve their communication.
“That communication is paramount in providing service and getting officers to the locations where they’re needed to help the citizens,” Lieutenant Tonya Price said. “We just want to provide quality service to the citizens. Often, or more often than not, 911 is the first line of communication for citizens.”
With such a special role in the community, Rep. Mark Ellebracht is proposing a bill that would give dispatchers more recognition.
As director of Springfield-Greene County 911, Kris Inman says his staff is eagerly anticipating what happens.
“It excites our folks because they want to be recognized for who they are, what they are, and what they do,” Inman said. “We want to be recognized in the same breath that our firefighters and police officers are.”
If the bill passes, Inman says his department would finally get more respect.
“It’s much deserved and long overdue,” Inman said. “Every call that our folks take out there has legitimate life or death circumstances and consequences. If you were to stop and talk to a police officer or firefighter and ask them, ‘Is 911 a first responder?’ They’d tell you, ‘Yes.'”
Rippee had the same answer.
“I would say yes,” Rippee said. “We kind of consider them already.
Inman says being considered a first responder would also mean access to better training, and essential items like personal protective equipment (PPE). Even though his team has PPE, Inman says there may be some dispatcher departments around Missouri that might not have important equipment because of how they’re labeled.