PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Stressful calls and long hours, 911 dispatchers deal with this every day.
Some experts say they can even develop PTSD.
But dispatchers are not considered first responders. Now there’s a push to get them more help to deal with that stress.
“The average medical dispatcher for 911, for instance, takes 10,000 calls per year,” said dispatcher Frank Piccioli.
In his 18 years as a dispatcher for the city of Phoenix, one call has stuck with Piccioli.
“I remember I had a mother of two children that had a heart attack and coded, meaning her heart stopped, at Christmas time. And so when you pick up the phone the first thing I heard was Christmas songs, and then children pleading with me to save their mother,” said Piccioli.
He says, similar to police officers and firefighters, calls like these can leave dispatchers with PTSD.
“And sure enough, Christmas songs tend to be that trigger years later of remembering what those children had to go through,” he said.
But unlike fire fighters and police officers, dispatchers are not considered first responders. Their job title falls under clerical employees, the same category as administrative staff or secretaries.
Now as President of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, (AFCME) Piccioli wants to change that.
“I think 911 operators and the people who took the calls early on simply took the call and transferred it or got the call out. But now we're doing the actual medical procedures, we're doing choking victims, we’re doing 'codes.' So the job has changed from 30 years ago when 911 systems were more basic,” said Piccioli.
Right now a bill written to change that has passed the U.S. House and is now in the Senate.
“And really, to be able to retire at 20 years like first responders is a huge benefit to be able to have that time. The stress of doing this for 35 years breaks many of them,” said Piccioli.
But he worries that bill may fall short and not become law. So here in phoenix, Piccioli has been working with the city council to make changes here.
“We need pay increases, we need more PTSD resources, and we need to be able to fill those seats with qualified people who can do the job,” he said.
Police and Fire personnel have their own mental health resources, called Bulletproof and Firestrong.
Dispatchers do have access to them, but Piccioli says they are not tailored for dispatchers. He wants a service built for their specific type of work trauma.