911 Dispatcher Certification Requirements in Massachusetts

Massachusetts certifies dispatchers who serve as enhanced 911 telecommunicators. Training mandates apply to both full- and part-time workers who serve most of the state’s Public Safety Answer Points (PSAPs) and Regional Communication Centers (RECCs). Telecommunicators who provide Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) have additional training requirements.

Training mandates are post-hire, though agencies may prefer individuals who have had training. Pre-hire requirements may vary from agency to agency within the state. A dispatcher generally needs only a high school diploma/ GED, though higher education can facilitate career mobility and, in some cases, prove helpful in achieving a first position.

Higher education, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, may offer additional opportunities and status in the Emergency Dispatcher field.

Select a Massachusetts 911 Emergency Dispatcher Topic

Meeting Requirements for Hiring and Promotion

The minimum requirement is generally for education at the high school level. The employer may specify a minimum age of 18.

Some employers favor candidates who have already had training. They may, for example, state that the candidate should be APCO-certified.

Some hiring agencies do give some degree of preference to individuals with degrees at the associate’s or bachelor’s level. The City of Cambridge, for example, lists degrees in criminal justice and related fields as a preferred qualification for emergency telecommunications dispatcher. Bilingualism is also sought after; the hiring agency lists a preference for individuals who can speak Portuguese, Spanish, or Haitian/ Creole. Among the other desirable qualifications, not surprisingly, is previous experience in a related role. There are a number of options, including firefighting, emergency medical services, and call center work.

Previous experience handling switchboards may be valued even if duties are not the same. For example, a Fusion Center Operator, handling routine and emergency calls at Northeastern University, is expected to have three years of customer service that involves triaging calls and recording information (https://neu.peopleadmin.com/postings/38923). Dispatch experience is highly valued even if it’s for a taxi cab or delivery service.

The Essex Sheriff’s Department notes a preference for either previous dispatch experience or a college degree.

Whatever his or her academic background, the candidate will need to go through a rigorous set of assessments. The following components may be included:

  • Physical examination, including hearing test and drug screening
  • Psychological examination or test
  • Background check
  • Typing or keyboarding test

EMDs may be employed in the public or private sector. Some work for ambulance services. Prior experience as an Emergency Medical Technician is valued by medical dispatch providers, but is not mandated. It may be enough to have, at the time of hiring, current CPR and first aid trainings. After hire, the dispatcher will need to meet training requirements that are comparable to telecommunicators in the public sector; these are described in the Department’s list of frequently asked questions (http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/state-911/emergency-medical-dispatch-emd-regulations.html).

Skilled telecommunicators may eventually take on roles such as training or quality assurance. Higher level administrative positions often favor those who have degrees as well as demonstrated skills.

Mandatory Trainings

The new hire will need to complete two days of Department-provided training. One focus of this training is to learn the equipment.

The dispatcher will also need to complete a 40 hour basic telecommunicator course.

Some dispatchers will need training/ certification in use of the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) terminal.

PSAPs may host their own trainings using state funds. The Department has provided a list of upcoming trainings, noting that interested individuals will need to contact the organization directly.

The dispatcher will need to do 16 hours of Department-approved continuing education. There are a number of options. Topics can include fire service dispatch, special medical considerations, domestic violence dispatch training, missing persons, and 911 liability, among many others. The Department has provided a list of approved courses. The following are among the providers:

  • APCO International
  • Commonwealth Police Service
  • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
  • PowerPhone

Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) Requirements

A Massachusetts emergency dispatcher may handle all types of 911 call or may specialize. Job duties may or may not include providing emergency medical dispatch and pre-arrival medical directions.

PSAPs and RECCs have the option of either providing EMD or arranging for it to be provided by an outside resource. Many of the police departments that serve as primary or secondary PSAPs in Massachusetts use ambulance services as EMD resources; some instead use fire departments.

Any individual who dispatches for a PSAP that provides medical dispatch services directly is required to hold certification.

The Department hosts training sessions. EMD training is provided free to eligible individuals. However, they must pre-register (http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/state-911/e911/trng-and-progs/).

The Department has approved the following vendors: PowerPhone, APCO International, and Priority Dispatch. They may provide training for Massachusetts agencies.

Additional Information

Information about certification requirements is available from the Massachusetts State 911 Department (http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/state-911/). The 911 Department publishes a monthly newsletter (http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/state-911/state-911-department-newsletters.html). The Department can be reached by email at ‘EMD911 at state.ma.us.’

The state professional associations are the Atlantic Chapter of APCO International (http://www.apco-atlantic.org) and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Emergency Numbers Association (http://www.massnena.org/).

APCO International reports that Massachusetts has been a leader in training dispatchers to handle communications regarding missing children (http://psc.apcointl.org/2010/09/01/state-training-certification-survey/).