They're the voice of calm in an emergency. 911 dispatchers deal with life and death every day, but they do it for low pay, long hours and little recognition. Now there's a national push to change that by bumping 911 jobs into a new classification that better reflects their life-saving role.
When a phone rings inside the Fort Worth 911 call center, someone is having their worst day, and a voice at the other end of the line may be all that holds them together.
"My job is to keep them calm, deescalate the situation and just get them talking about themselves and what's going on," said Shinar Haynes, Executive Director of the Tarrant County 911 District.
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Haynes was a 911 call taker and dispatcher for 15 years.
"It does leave impressions of cries, of screams, of gunshots, of last breaths, all those things that no one wants to keep in their mind, that gets stuck with you," Haynes said.
911 call takers and dispatchers make split second decisions on how to respond and who to send, with what equipment.
"Many of our dispatchers are trained as hostage and crisis negotiators," Haynes said.
But despite the high stakes and lingering effects like PTSD, their jobs are classified the same way as a secretary.
"We are a very vital part of public safety and the public safety cycle and we would like to be recognized as such," said Haynes.
Now there's a push for change with the national '911 Saves Act' that would reclassify 911 jobs as 'protective service occupations.'
According to Haynes, "It's a matter of pride."
It could also mean higher pay and better retirement and mental health benefits. Recognition for the unseen headset that often stands between life and death.
The ‘911 Saves Act’ is backed by U.S. Representatives Norma J. Torres (CA-35) who is a former dispatcher. Supporters are urging anyone who is interested in helping to call your representatives.