Clay County legislators hear support for expanding first responders designation

Julie Morgan
Man on stretcher, ambulancePhoto byRODNAE Productions

A bill before the state Legislature in the upcoming session designates water and wastewater facility personnel as essential first responders.

“Protecting water supplies and preventing the spread of disease are essential for restoring our communities,” said Clay County Utility Authority Executive Director Jeremy Johnston.

He asked the Clay County delegation to support the bill, HB 23. The delegation includes state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, state Rep. Sam Garrison and state Rep. Bobby Payne.

Johnston told them that CCUA sent licensed operators, mechanics, technicians, and equipment to Cape Coral and Sanibel Island following Hurricane Ian to assist with storm relief. “In addition to their response and recovery efforts, our team learned a great deal,” he said.

The three legislative members held a meeting on Monday where local leaders could share their needs and concerns and request support for local projects.

Another speaker at Monday’s delegation meeting made a similar request for support.

Ashley Barber, assistant chief of communications with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, asked that the delegation support a statewide initiative for the Legislature to include public safety telecommunicators or 911 dispatchers in the list of first responders.

“911 dispatchers are essentially the first first responders,” said Barber.

The state statute includes special provisions for first responders, including access to PTSD care.

“Studies show that 911 (dispatchers) are just as susceptible to PTSD as their fellow first responders in the field,” said Barber.

Barber argued that emerging technology will increase their exposure to potentially mentally harmful events. For example, she said the dispatchers will soon be able to receive videos and photos of activities in the field, in addition to being “audibly” exposed to what’s going on.

She asked that the wording of the state statute be updated to include “certified telecommunicators.”

“Your message is being heard,” said Bradley. Last session, Bradley was able to advance a bill that extended PTSD benefits for correctional officers. However, it did not include 911 operators. “I look forward to renewing that discussion,” she said.

The legislative session begins on March 7, 2023.

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