DENVER (CBS4) – A state lawmaker is calling for help for those who help us in emergencies. A loophole in state law has prevented 911 operators and dispatchers from using workers’ compensation when they experience emotional trauma, even though police, fire and other first responders are covered. The current law says an emergency worker has to see something traumatizing, hearing it doesn’t count.
911 operators and dispatchers hear it all — and Matt Fuller with Denver 911 says some of it is hard to forget.
“I took a call from a mom who walked into her garage and found her son had committed suicide by hanging himself. Hearing those screams of terror and just the real emotion puts you right there with them,” Fuller said.
Representative Jonathan Singer secured the coverage for first responders and plans to close the loophole that keeps 911 operators from getting help.
“That just boggles my mind. I’ve worked crisis lines before and I can’t tell you the number of times I wished I could have reached through that phone and helped the person on the other side.”
Natalie Martinez has worked with 911 for nearly 30 years and says there are still calls she can’t shake.
“I’ve had a gentleman call and it was his last breaths. We are not on the scene and see it but we hear it when it’s happening and that’s something you can never forget,” Martinez said.
Shelly Lesnansky, Operations Manager for Denver 911, also has calls that haunt her.
“The young woman who’s calling [says] there’s a fire in our house and she started coughing and choking… and then the phone goes dead.”
She says trauma contributes to a high turnover in the profession.
“You’re not there, but you’re there. If we could care for them, spend a little time away to get a lot time back in return that would benefit everybody. That includes the next person who’s family member isn’t breathing, whose home is broken into, or who’s child is choking,” she said.
“To give some space and some time so that they can come back and be fully present for that next call. That could be your call, my call, our kids’ calls,” she said.
Representative Singer says it took him nearly five years to get the coverage for police, firefighters and other first responders. He’s hoping it won’t take another five years to get 911 dispatchers the same coverage.
“When they need help it’s up to us to step up and make sure they get the treatment they deserve so they can answer that next call.”