911 Dispatcher Requirements in Montana: Public Safety Communications Officer

Montana’s 911 dispatchers are termed public safety communications officers. They must meet eligibility and training requirements set by the state. Requirements set by hiring agencies may be higher.

Emergency dispatch is diverse. While most emergency dispatchers are in public safety, some may be employed by private agencies. There are opportunities for advancement in both the public and private sectors.

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

Select a Montana Public Safety Communications Officer Topic

General Eligibility Requirements

Public safety communication officers must be at least eighteen years old (http://www.leg.mt.gov/bills/MCA_toc/7_31.htm). They must have high school diplomas or general equivalency diplomas. U.S. citizenship is also required.

Communications officers will need to have fingerprint-based background checks. They may not have histories of serious crime punishable by incarceration in a state or federal penitentiary. State code also stipulates “good character”.

Hiring Expectations

While Montana statute specifies minimum age, hiring agencies may specify minimum education level. High school education is generally sufficient, provided the graduate has the needed skill set. However, some employers do like to see a little college coursework. In some cases, coursework and work experience may substitute for one another. Montana State University, for example, looks for Communication Safety Officers to have two years of general office experience and a year of post-secondary education, but can consider other equivalent combinations (https://jobs.montana.edu/postings/2827). MSW Communications Safety Officers must have demonstrated competency in a number of areas, from maintaining record keeping systems to prioritizing and organizing simultaneous assignments.

Prospective dispatchers should be aware that, while attributes like stress tolerance are applicable to all emergency communications positions, the skill set can be a little different from one position to the next. A dispatcher will need typing skills, but the expected speed may vary a little from agency to agency.

The job typically requires written as well as oral language skills. Multi-tasking is a frequently cited ability.

Training Requirements

Montana’s public safety communications officers are required to complete a 40-hour/ one-week training program during their first year (https://dojmt.gov/mlea/basic-program/). The course covers effective communication, radio and telephone procedure, and incident documentation; it is applicable to fire, police, and medical dispatch.

The required training is carried out by the Montana Law Enforcement Agency, or MLEA (http://www.leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/7/31/7-31-203.htm). Currently, it is offered four times per year. MLEA has published a schedule for the coming year (https://dojmt.gov/mlea/course-schedule/).

Dispatchers also need Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN) certification. The certification course includes an introduction to the criminal justice system (https://dojmt.gov/mlea/). The training can be accessed from the agency’s CJIN terminal.

Hiring agencies may mandate additional trainings. Livingston and Glendive, for example, are among the jurisdictions that mandate Emergency Medical Dispatch Training (EMD). This is important for dispatchers who offer pre-arrival medical instructions – sometimes it’s what happens in the moments before medical providers arrive that determines whether a person survives. The International Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO International) reports that there has been some interest in developing an EMD program at the state level in Montana (http://psc.apcointl.org/2010/09/01/state-training-certification-survey).

Dispatchers can obtain other certifications and trainings through continuing education providers. Topics range from fire dispatch to missing children. Self-care is also covered. Some programs are offered online. One that isn’t: CPR. CPR is a typical expectation for emergency medical dispatch.

Career Opportunities

An emergency telecommunicator may specialize in medical dispatch. Some dispatchers are hired by medical facilities to handle transfer between facilities (as well as other related duties such as switchboard operation).

Successful dispatchers may become shift or communications center supervisors. They may also work to create change on a larger level.

Some highly skilled telecommunicators may wish to participate in the Montana Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce, or TERT (TERT https://www.mtapco.org/). TERT participation involves a commitment to deploy after disasters. TERT members must have recommendations from their agencies. They must participate in additional trainings. At the higher levels of TERT participation, leadership courses can be helpful.

Some emergency communications professionals may want to move into positions that involve large-scale planning. An example is Emergency Management Specialist for the Department of Public Health and Human Services. The typical requirements for this particular position are 1) a bachelor’s degree in a field such as public administration, public health, or emergency management and 2) a couple of years spent carrying out duties of sufficient breadth in the disaster emergency preparedness field.

A degree is about flexibility as well as moving to the highest levels. Communications officers can also pursue certifications through well-known organizations such as the National Emergency Numbers Association or APCO International. NENA offers the Emergency Numbers Professional (ENP) credential. 911 workers cannot pursue the ENP until they have been in the field at least three years. They also need to have accrued ten points through some combination of experience, education, and/ or professional activity. A degree at the associate’s level is worth two points; a degree at the bachelor’s level, four.

Additional Information

The 911 Advisory Council is under the banner of the Montana State Information Technology Services Division (http://sitsd.mt.gov/Public-Safety-Home-Page/9-1-1-Main-Page/9-1-1-Advisory-Council).

The state professional association is the Montana Chapter of the International Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (http://www.mtapco.org).