State Politics

Local lawmaker files 911 training bill

MANATEE — After the family of an abducted North Port woman complained that confusion at a Charlotte County 911 call center deprived law enforcement officers of a chance to save her life, a local legislator has filed a bill addressing certification requirements for emergency dispatchers.

Senate Bill 2040, filed by state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, would require public dispatchers to earn certification under the supervision of the state Department of Health.

“I think they should have mandatory training, and not voluntary training,” she said. “You’re dealing with life and death, obviously.”

Each emergency dispatch call center sets its own standards, officials said. If the bill passes, it would set uniform standards statewide.

Detert said she had heard complaints about the bill from those who claimed dispatchers were underpaid and thus the jobs were difficult to fill with good employees.

But with unemployment at the highest rate in decades, that argument seems moot now, she said.

Bill Hutchison, director of public safety for Manatee County, said the bill would not affect his call center operation much because it already has set high training and certification standards for its 32 dispatchers. He said dispatchers earn $28,000 to $55,000 annually.

Hutchison’s operation primarily handles fire and emergency medical service calls; it refers calls requesting law enforcement help to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said Jim Lanier, the county’s emergency communications division manager.

Fully trained sheriff’s office dispatchers earn about $30,014 a year, said Dave Bristow, a sheriff’s office spokesman. Those in training earn $25,250 a year, he added.

Nationally, the standards for training and certification of emergency dispatchers varies from state to state.

Some states have set high mandatory standards and their dispatchers undergo elaborate training and thorough certification, while others require only voluntary standards, said Carlynn Page, associate director at the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch, based in Salt Lake City. Some states require nothing at all, she added.

“In every state I’m aware of, in order to get your hair cut, the stylist has to be certified by the state, but there are states that still don’t require certification for emergency medical dispatchers,” she noted Monday.

However, she said she was glad that the trend is “going toward mandatory certification,” she said.

Detert said her bill was inspired by the case of Denise Amber Lee, who last year was kidnapped from her home in North Port. A motorist called authorities when she saw Lee struggling with her kidnapper, but no police officers were sent to check on the report, and Lee was killed and buried in a shallow grave.

Lee’s family complained that the call center’s handling of the incident contributed to her death and has created a foundation in her name devoted to improving the 911 system.