911 dispatchers left off Florida's first-responder bonus list
SARASOTA, Fla. - Governor Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that first responders would be getting $1,000 pandemic bonuses.
"It's a way for us to say ‘thank you’ for folks who have worked so hard on our behalf," said DeSantis. "When people are calling and they need help, these guys have got to be there. And they have been there and served in a variety of capacities throughout the pandemic."
Firefighters, law enforcement officers, paramedics and EMTs have carried on working while facing the worst of the pandemic.
But there's one group often heard and rarely seen who were left off the bonus list. They are the first first responders to any scene: 911 public safety telecommunicators. And right now, they feel left out.
"I think it’s great for the first responders. I think it’s great he’s showing support, but I feel that the 911 telecommunicators are being overlooked at this point," said Dan Koenig, the president for the Florida Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association.
Last year, he watched as telecommunicators went to work and risked their safety and health. They continued to guide first responders on the streets into even more unknown situations. As call loads increased, their questions changed.
But telecommunicators remained on the line.
"911, like they say, is the most important voice you’ll never see, not to take away from any other first responders," said Koenig.
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He sent Gov. DeSantis a letter, asking to be considered in Bonuses for Our Heroes, pointing out that communications operators even paid the ultimate sacrifice with their own lives.
Broward Sheriff's Office Communicator Nikima Thompson caught COVID. She became the first communications operator to die in the line of duty in Florida.
"They are on scene as far as their heart, mind and soul is on scene at that call and they deal with the same stressors and everything else that the first responders do," he said.
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Last year, the House filed a bill to re-classify 911 operators as first responders, but it died before it could reach the floor.
Koenig said telecommunicators are first responders and deserve the same recognition.
"They deal with the same calls and the same stress and a lot of the same different ideas that police, fire and EMS deal with," he said.
FOX 13 reached out to the governor's office for comment, but we have not heard back.