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911 celebrates 56 years of saving lives

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - 911 has been saving lives for 56 years.  The first 911 call was made in February 1968 in Alabama. 

The three digits have been ingrained in our brains to get help from emergency responders even though the number is relatively new. 

While the first 911 call was made in 1968, the number wasn't used by all the states from it's inception. Local News 8 was curious as to when it was adopted locally.  We learned 911 first came to Idaho Falls back in the 70s, and the service was made available through City Hall. 

911 has since proven to be a vital tool for first responders.

"We dispatch for fire, police, EMS, for all of Bonneville County, Idaho Falls, Swan Valley, all the first responders in the area," said Desi Gossner, a dispatcher for Bonneville County.

Desi has been a dispatcher for the past seven years. She shares that once someone picks up the phone for 911, gives the address for the emergency, as well as what the emergency is, help is already on its way.

She emphasizes that callers should still remain on the line.

"We do try to tell them, 'Hey, this is not delaying any response. We're getting you the help.' But these questions are just to help the  responders that are headed that way," Gossner said.

She says dispatchers also need to be aware of background noises, just in case the caller can't speak freely.

"You're taught to listen for those things in the background instead of just listening to your caller," Gossner said.

Sergeant Bryan Lovell with the Bonneville County Sheriff's Office said the technology behind 911 continues to evolve. People can now text the number, and your address can be seen by a dispatcher the minute you call in. 

He also says Gossner and her colleagues are vital in making sure that lives can be saved, and often times, the job's difficulty is compounded by fielding multiple call for one situation.

While a major part of Gossner's role is public facing, she does much more behind the scenes to help our first responders. She helps officers check for warrants, vehicle information, and other vital questions that come across on the "wants" radio.

"The officers on the street are asking you to help them find information about certain people or if we've ever had interactions with them," Gossner adds. That means part of the time she's doing what she's called 'detective' work.

Another little-known fact is shared by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). They said while 911 is used nationwide, there's no Federal system for it, so it's all based locally.

"There is no Federal 911 system, nor are we advocating for a Federal 911 system simply because by being local, the 911 professionals know the environment much better than somebody that would be sitting several states away and trying to respond to an emergency. And also many of these 911 centers will dispatch the field responders based, of course, on the resources available at that time in that community," Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA said.

He also says that 911 arose from a need to have an easier way to access first responders.

"That became complicated simply because people travel, they move around one community, the next one farming community," Fontes said.

Fontes shares that NENA is sponsoring two bills currently on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Both would help dispatchers.

One of the bills will raise the funding for 911 , and help bring it into the digital age.

"We have to do this as a nation, not as an individual community or as individual county, simply because, as I said, most calls originate from mobile devices and people move from one location to the next, and you want to have that same quality of service, that same capability that you have from your originating location to any location that you may travel," Fontes said.

The other bill could see the job classification of dispatchers change on a national level.

Nationally, dispatchers are classified as clerical or secretarial workers. NENA would like to see dispatchers classified as public safety workers.

"I think there's roughly 17 to 19 states now that have reclassified 911 as public safety services. But the federal government hasn't done that. And so it's time again to recognize that 911 is that first, first call, first, first responder to an emergency, and that they should be treated as other public safety services. And this has an impact on the federal level," Fontes said.

This reclassification could give dispatchers greater access to benefits, including mental health care.

Idaho is one of the nearly 20 states that have reclassified dispatchers to be a part of the public safety workers.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho Falls

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Braydon Wilson

Braydon is a reporter for Local News 8.


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