Tuesday morning, Somerville dispatchers Joan McKenna, John Hickey, Susan DeSousa and Christine Cornelio testified at the Massachusetts Statehouse for 911 emergency telecommunicators to better retirement benefits just as other first responders such as firefighters, EMTs, and police do. Twenty-year Boston police dispatch veteran and SEIU 888 Political Director Anthony Landry also testified and wrote in support of the bill.
The dispatchers highlighted the difficulty of performing a job that constantly requires mastering new and complex technology. “Today we are still answering phone calls, while also answering text messages and video calls making us not only the first- first responder you will come in contact with but also the first- first responder able to see the scene, of the emergency while keeping the caller calm,” said Joan McKenna, twenty-six year veteran of Somerville police dispatch.
There are over 2,000 911 dispatch workers in Massachusetts represented by several different unions, yet surprisingly SEIU 888 was the only union on hand to support the bill, S.1674, which would change the lives of most dispatchers across the state. Additionally, SEIU 888 has introduced legislation to formally recognize emergency telecommunicators as first responders, add dispatchers to the Heart Law, opening them up to a bevy of benefits for on-the-job health complications dispatchers frequently encounter, and organized Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to sign an executive order declaring 911 police dispatch workers as first responders. Under the new leadership of Political Director Anthony Landry, SEIU 888 has made a point of leading the labor movement for 911 dispatch workers, some of them most under-appreciated and overworked people in the Commonwealth.
Emergency telecommunicators carry the daily burden of answering traumatic calls. This cumulative trauma can lead to serious life-altering health conditions. Studies have found that over twenty percent of 911 Dispatchers suffer from PTSD. Dispatchers who retire at age 65 has an average life expectancy of 14 years after they retire. As for those in emergency services, it is only 5-9. “We as the first generation of civilian dispatchers are going to be performing this job anywhere between 30-45 years. Studies have shown that while performing our job, every emergency situation causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. These situations can last anywhere on average from 45 minutes to an hour at their peak,” says Anthony Landry, Director of the Commonwealth 911 Peer Support team of the Massachusetts State Peer Support Network.
To support the passage of this bill and others to improve the lives of emergency telecommunicators, readers can submit written testimony by emailing Fiona.BruceBaiden@mahouse.gov with the subject line: 'S.1674, S.1667'