Kansas dispatchers included as ‘emergency responders’ after Senate bill signed into law

Melanie Bergers, of the Shawnee County Emergency Communications Center, said she is excited dispatchers are among "emergency responders" in a new Kansas law.
Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 11:02 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Melanie Bergers called Wednesday “a historic day” in Kansas history.

On Wednesday, they officially became classified as “emergency responders” under Senate Bill 40, which was signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly.

The bill, which reforms to the Kansas Emergency Management Act, was passed March 16 in a bipartisan vote of 31-8.

Bergers is the director of communications for the Shawnee County Emergency Communications Center, which handles all 911 calls in Topeka and Shawnee County.

She said dispatchers in Kansas are often the first point of contact for people reporting emergencies.

She said efforts have been underway “for a long time” to have dispatchers included in the group of “emergency responders” as they play a vital role in the communities they serve.

“This doesn’t change their classification at a federal level,” Bergers said, “but it does give them the recognition and the title that they deserve. They work very, very hard, and they are the first first-responders to every emergency that comes into our center, and oftentimes, they’re able to take care of that emergency without a responder.”

Bergers said the dispatchers undergo extensive training to be able to do their jobs, helping them stay calm in the most difficult of circumstances.

“We have dispatchers that perform CPR, that can help a suicidal caller who might be just having a terrible day and this is their last person -- that they just need some help to get to the right resources,” Berger said. “A mom who’s called and her baby’s not breathing. Or somebody’s found that their house has been broken into.

“Those dispatchers are a calm voice when somebody is having probably the worst day of their life, while they are dispatching resources and really orchestrating every response that responders go to.”

Bergers said on Thursday she was still excited about the state officially including dispatchers among other emergency responders.

“This is a historical day in Kansas,” Bergers said. “There are several other states out there that have fought to get appropriate recognition for their dispatchers, and our professional organizations have worked tirelessly over the last few years.

“We really came together and found ways to make this happen, and I’m very proud of our 911 professionals throughout the entire state. We have an incredible group of people. They always come together and they find a way to make it happen.”

Brown County Sheriff John Merchant on Thursday said the inclusion of dispatchers being classified as “emergency responders” was “great news” and was the culmination of “many years” of efforts.

Merchant noted that dispatchers “receive calls reporting everything from littering to homicides.” Unlike other emergency responders, however, the dispatchers remain at their stations.

Merchant said the bill not only recognizes dispatchers for their “incredible efforts in keeping our communities safe, but also opens doors for them to obtain services needed to better perform their duties.”

Merchant added that he was “very appreciative that dispatchers are being recognized for the truly remarkable jobs that they do.”

According to a section of the SB 40, emergency responders include: law enforcement officers; firefighters; 911 call-takers; emergency medical services personnel; physicians; nurses; physician assistants; public health personnel; emergency management personnel; public works personnel; and individuals with skills or training in operating specialized equipment needed to provide aid in a declared emergency.

Other components of the bill include measures that: end all coronavirus-related statewide mandates on March 31; prohibit the governor from closing businesses, civil organizations and churches.; establish due process rights for Kansans “aggrieved” by an order; and preserve local control of schools.

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