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After 33 years on job, dispatcher says ‘Rule of 80’ needed

December 15, 2018

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Pam Myers is among the few dispatchers in Idaho to retire in that position.

For 33 years, Myers has taken good and bad calls, first for the Caldwell Police Department starting in 1985 and then for 24 years with the Nampa Police Department.

Stress and trauma from taking emergency calls can hinder dispatchers from reaching the required age and years worked to retire, the Idaho Press reports. In Idaho dispatchers are not eligible to retire until they’ve reached the Rule of 90, meaning their age plus years on the job equal 90.

Legislation slated for in the upcoming session would give dispatchers such as Myers the Rule of 80 in retirement. Like law enforcement officers and firefighters, dispatchers would be eligible to retire when their age and number of years worked equaled 80. The goal is to help agencies retain dispatchers.

With the Rule of 80, Myers, 56, could have retired five years earlier.

In that five years, Myers heard a lot she would rather not have. Her health isn’t as good as it would’ve been had she gotten out five years ago, she said.

“We work the same hours as patrolmen, same holidays,” Myers said, arguing why dispatchers should be included. “We’re there before they are.”

Similar legislation failed in 2017, puzzling supporter Len Humphries, the Fremont County sheriff.

“Very, very few dispatchers ever retire, and this (legislation) was in an effort to help reduce the amount of time they have to put in,” he said.

“They answer the phone, they’re the ones that catch the flack when someone is not happy,” Humphries said. “They’re the ones that have to make sure help is on its way, and many times they don’t enjoy the closure of what actually happened.”

For Idaho Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, the decision to oppose the 2017 Rule of 80 legislation was not easy.

“I absolutely recognize that they deserve it, but that’s not the issue,” Chaney said.

To his understanding, the standard for Rule of 80 is based on the physical strain law enforcement and firefighters experience on the job, which makes them eligible for the rule. Expanding that standard to include mental strain, Chaney fears, would create unfair or arbitrary legislation because more jobs experience mental strain and traumatic stress, but not all of those jobs could be given Rule of 80.

Calls dispatchers hear vary from police pursuits, fires, suicide attempts, car crashes to domestic violence, to name a few. Then, dispatchers have to figure out which calls are first priority.

“For the stress alone it should be Rule of 80,” Myers said.

Myers said Nampa Police’s data analyst told her that since Jan. 1 to her last day on Nov. 27, she personally handled 5,837 calls, which only includes the calls documented into the computer.

A typical Sunday shift started at 6 a.m. for Myers. She would see if there was any night shift paperwork to catch up on, review the overnight calls and determine if any pending reports needed to be sent to patrol officers. By the afternoon, Myers said domestic calls became more frequent. All throughout the day, she had to figure out which calls were priorities.

Each dispatcher works on eight to 11 screens, is hearing usually more than one person talk and has to type the information they’re receiving. Typically, each dispatcher is responsible for about 25 officers in a shift.

“They (police) don’t do anything without the dispatcher unless it is to make traffic stops,” she said.

In her tenure, she has seen a lot. Some calls have given her nightmares, but some have kept her laughing for years. Her husband, Dan Myers, boasted that she’s been credited for talking down two suicides and helping deliver three babies.

Over the decades, she stuck with the job because “it was just natural” to her.

“I felt such pride, and I still do when I see the fire department going down the road, because I did that,” she said.

Myers thinks the Rule of 80 legislation stands a shot at passing this year because “a lot more people are aware now.”

It helps, she said, that another bill on the table for 2019 includes dispatchers along with firefighters and police officers. The bill would allow workers’ compensation to cover post-traumatic stress injuries even if no physical injury was involved.

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Information from: Idaho Press, http://www.idahopress.com

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