A new law is working to extend mental health support to 911 operators. Now dispatchers can receive traumatic event counseling programs, thanks to AZ HB2717.

The law broadens the program to include 911 dispatchers.

“You know, there’s things that we handle that we can’t always go home and talk about,” dispatcher Elizabeth Woodward said. “There’s things that are open investigations that you don’t get to go home and tell everybody.”

Elizabeth Woodward has been a dispatcher for over 7 years. During that time, she’s had several calls that took a toll on her mental health. So hearing that dispatchers would finally be included in free counseling was so important.

“It is a huge step for us. We’re often overlooked, still classified as administrative assistants,” Woodward said. “And that’s often said that we’re the first of the first responders. We hear a lot of things and we don’t necessarily respond in person to see things, but we hear it all.”

In 2018, former Arizona Governor Ducey signed signed legislation that provides more counseling for first responders who may be dealing with PTSD, and while the law was aimed at helping police officers and firefighters, now dispatchers will be included.

Tucson Fire Chief Chuck Ryan said he’s seen firsthand how helpful the resource can be.

“In 2018, after years of legislative work, Governor Ducey at the time, signed what is known as the Craig Tiger Act, which provides protections for emergency service workers. At that point, it was just for police officers, firefighters, corrections officers…for mental health services, trauma counseling, at least 12 visits per year and with a licensed mental health professional to help folks kind of get back to good and overcome what they’ve what they’ve encountered in some really graphic situations,” Ryan said.

Ryan said since its inception his crew has benefited greatly from it.

“It’s been super helpful for Tucson Fire. Our members (are part of) a very busy urban fire department dealing with urban issues, urban problems, and our men and women regrettably routinely see some pretty tragic stuff, and so this is a great opportunity for them,” Ryan said.