State lawmakers call for support for PA’s telecommunicators

HARRISBURG, April 17 –State Reps. Roni Green and Tarik Khan, both D-Phila., were joined by a bipartisan group of their legislative colleagues, public safety telecommunicators and advocates at the state Capitol today to celebrate “National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week” and discuss how the legislature can work to help Pennsylvania’s telecommunicators and 911 dispatchers. 

The telecommunicators and advocates who were present included Jack Morgan III, 911 operator from Allegheny County; Sara Slote, dispatch manager, Lancaster County 911; Bill Perkins, state constable; Garrett Rienhardt, recipient of life-saving care; Tyler Griffith, dispatcher; AFSCME members; and Gordon Zimmet, Local 1637 president.

At the news conference, the legislators discussed a resolution (H.R. 377), introduced by Green that recognizes the week of April 14-20 “Public Safety Telecommunicators Week” in Pennsylvania. The resolution was adopted by the House later in the day.

“911 dispatchers are the point of first contact between the caller and first responders. The speed and efficiency with which they work saves lives. They parse through heaps of information in very chaotic situations and support callers during what is often one of the most difficult moments of their lives,” Green said. “It’s time for the commonwealth to give back to 911 dispatchers the kind of support they give us. My daughter worked as a 911 dispatcher and she liked the job and would still be doing it if she, and 911 dispatchers across Pennsylvania, received the support and resources they need. We must change the status quo and get them the support with mental health, the pay, and the respect they deserve for the difficult and vital service they provide.”

They also discussed H.B. 1463, introduced by state Rep. Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny, which would classify 911 dispatchers as first responders in Pennsylvania.

“Literally the first to respond to many emergencies, 911 telecommunicators deserve recognition as more than just administrative and clerical workers and should be reclassified as first responders,” Benham said. “I’m grateful to the committee for moving H.B. 1463 forward, and while we need to do more to support the important work that 911 operators do, I hope that the full House will pass my bill very soon and allow us to make progress on this issue.” 

Khan offered his gratitude to the work telecommunicators do across Pennsylvania.

"I am so grateful to our public safety telecommunicators who are literally on the front lines of our emergency response system. These heroes help people during some of the most challenging times in their life. As a nurse who has to constantly assess and triage in my health care role, it’s an honor to help formally recognize these essential first responders.”

State Rep. Tom Jones, R-Lancaster/Lebanon, brought one of his young constituents who contacted telecommunicators to help save her father, Garrett Rienhardt’s, life.

“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to recognize heroes in our community! It is truly one of the greatest honors of being an elected representative,” Jones said. “The quick actions of young McKenzie Koenig, the response of constable Bill Perkins and the availability and great work of 911 operator Tyler Griffith all came together on Aug. 5, 2023, to save the life of Garrett Reinhardt. This story with a happy ending highlights just how important our public safety telecommunicators are to our community. We appreciate that they are there when we need them and recognize that they are truly the first responders in what are often our moments of most dire need.”

Gordon Zimmett urged the House to pass H.B. 1463.

“911 dispatchers answer the call for help. Now, it’s time to help them and support 911 dispatchers as first responders and pass H.B. 1463,” Zimmett said.

Jack Morgan III discussed the importance of telecommunicators’ work.

"Every day, my colleagues and I go to work understanding the gravity of every call we take and every crisis we navigate,” Morgan said. “When we log in and put on our headset, we know another person’s life may depend on the directions and information we give them." 

The news conference can be viewed in its entirety at Press Conference: Honoring 911 Operators (