On Friday, September 10th, 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul signed S7121/A7366 into law, expanding the definition of “first responder” to include communications workers. This broadened definition officially recognizes all public safety dispatchers, emergency responders, emergency operators, emergency complaint operators, and emergency services dispatchers in NYS as first responders under state statute.
Emergency telecommunicators represent the literal front line of support and protection for emergency callers and are indeed New York's first “first responders.” When an emergency occurs and 911 is dialed, the caller's first point of contact in their time of crisis is one of these emergency telecommunicators. Not only do they field tragic calls, process pertinent information, and dispatch rescue services, they often talk callers through life-saving procedures before emergency services can arrive at the scene.
When a crisis turns to tragedy, however, the trauma experienced by emergency telecommunicators does not subside at the end of the call; it stays with them for a lifetime.
Governor Hochul signed this legislation and two related bills (S.4961-B/A.6384-A and S.7009/A.6934-A) to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The bills together are designed to ensure that all first responders who participated in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery, and cleanup operations can access WTC benefits. The bills not only expand the criteria for defining WTC first responders, but also allow online submissions of notice that members of a retirement system participated in WTC rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations.
Additionally, the new classification provided by S7121/A7366 grants these essential workers eligibility for additional training opportunities, which will make them more effective in their jobs and enhance their ability to keep residents of New York State safe.
Senator John Brooks (D-Massapequa, S.D. 8) said, "It is long past time we remove existing roadblocks that prevent these essential emergency workers from providing the full range of support they can give by receiving the benefits they deserve. ... As a first responder myself, I am grateful to
Governor Hochul for signing this important legislation into law."
Governor Hochul said, "These laws will help not only first responders who were at the World Trade Center on that terrible day and those who cleaned the site for weeks afterward, but also the emergency dispatchers and communications personnel who keep us safe today.”
According to the press release, emergency call volumes are reaching all-time highs. The stress and trauma experienced by communications workers has consequently increased, leading to high rates of attrition that far exceed national employment averages. In some counties, after significant public investments are made to hire and train these workers, attrition rates still exceed 30%. The benefits made available by the trio of bills include not only greater training opportunities, but also faster access to mental health treatment options, which have been proven effective for reducing attrition and turnover.
Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D-Bensonhurst, A.D. 49), who sponsored A7366, said that the bill defined excellence in emergency services, and that the classification of “First Responders in Communications” demonstrated New York’s respect for communications workers.
Eddie Rodriquez, president of Local 1549 Clerical Administrative Employees in New York City,
said, “This action sends a very important message that those who labor under very stressful and traumatic circumstances are recognized, valued and entitled to services that will allow them to do their jobs more effectively with less turnover.”
His words were echoed by Suffolk AME President Daniel C. Levler, Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association, FDNY, President Faye Smith, and Kelly Donoghue, President of the New York 911 Coordinators Association, who were present for the signing.