WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – You can always count on having a 911 dispatcher on the other end of the line when you call for help, but these first responders do not have the same legal protections as others like police or firefighters.
They’re never at the scene of the accident or fire, but they’re the first and, often, most important link to getting help in a life or death situation.
“They walk people through CPR, they walk people through if their house is burning down, they give them instructions on if you need to wrap yourself in a sheet and run out, or do you need to find the nearest window,” said 911 Director Hope Downs. “It is stressful knowing that all your training and everything you’ve been given, that there’s times when you’re still gonna have to make those judgment calls and you wanna ensure that you’re making the right one.”
A proposal to provide all first responders a little peace of mind is one step closer to becoming law.
The bill would shield telecommunicators from civil lawsuits, except in cases of willful misconduct.
The immunity for 911 Dispatchers Act passed the state House unanimously in May and passed the state Senate on Tuesday. Senators tweaked the language a bit to broaden who is covered by the law, meaning the bill must go back to the House for concurrence before it heads to the governor’s desk.
“It allows people who already have a very stressful job, a very difficult job, a necessary job, it provides them with a layer of protection, the ability to do their job without the stress, or something in the back of their mind saying ‘Am I gonna be sued because I’m doing my job to the best of my ability?’” said New Hanover County Intergovernmental Affairs Manager Tim Buckland.
Dispatchers are never sure what kind of situation is on the other end of the line they answer, but Downs is sure that passing this bill would help with dispatcher’s mental health and give them more stability.
“It’s really exciting. This is something that other states have already done, so it’s nice to see North Carolina stepping up and taking a role in that. I know at the state level, with our 911 board they’ve been a big advocate for that, and different directors around the state as well,” said Downs.
Local House representative Carson Smith sponsored the bill and passed along the following statement on its status Wednesday afternoon:
“When this bill becomes law it will be great for our 911 dispatchers as they work people through emergency situations. While any willful misconduct wouldn’t be covered, this bill would protect the dispatcher from their best attempts to help people navigate emergencies and ensure the proper help is on the way. Something they do faithfully each and every day.”
Copyright 2021 WECT. All rights reserved.