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Public Safety Telecommunicators Week puts dispatchers in the spotlight

Great Falls/Cascade County 911 Dispatch Center
Posted at 3:40 PM, Apr 12, 2022

GREAT FALLS - They are often referred to as the "first first-responders."

9-1-1 dispatchers see and hear a lot on the job, and this week is dedicated to them and the service they provide.

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week was created in 1981 to dedicate a week to those in the public safety community.

Great Falls dispatchers say they are seeing an increased volume of calls and that the national week of recognition helps spotlight their jobs.

Cascade County 911 director Karen Young says that she has 17 dispatchers; they are budgeted for 22 and are handling their call volume well.

“Last year we did start to see an increase because the initial impact of the pandemic was over, so the call load was increasing. Last year, like October, we changed our schedule. Went from five eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts but on a schedule so it rotates, and they end up with more days off actually,” Young said.

From the 911 Center website:

The Dispatch Center receives over 165,000 calls each year. At the time of the call, the dispatcher is combining location information with the questions asked of the caller to determine the emergency. They also determine the agency and or agencies that will respond to the scene. An emergency is determined when an immediate response by law enforcement or medical personnel is necessary to save and protect lives or property.

Chouteau County just went from four to six dispatchers and are still looking for another. They had 700 more calls last year than the year before, which has increased their workload.

Kim Burdick is Chouteau County’s 911 director and says most of her dispatchers are in overtime a lot, but it is a profession that is worthwhile. She has been in it for more than 30 years.

Another issue for some places across the nation is that dispatchers are classified as clerical employees, rather than protective service employees. Montana passed a resolution last year changing that, helping dispatchers raise awareness about their jobs.

“We’ve had such an increase in our calls, as well as a few fire calls already this year. I’ve been in the profession for, it’ll be 33 years this year, and I feel as passionate and challenged by the job as I ever have. And concentrating on getting dispatchers reclassified as first responders alongside law enforcement and fire, I think that’s going to go a long ways,” Burdick said.