New legislation pushes to extend PTSD benefits to 911 operators, crime scene technicians

Crime scene technicians and 911 operators hear and see the worst of humanity, and these tragedies aren't easily forgotten. While 911 dispatchers and civilian crime scene investigators work alongside sworn first responders, they are left out of receiving PTSD benefits

"We do take it home with us, and it has a tendency to cause people to withdraw from their families or be quiet at times, because we also mourn with the families that we are serving," said Candace Matthews, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office crime scene manager. 

Matthews hopes support will come with a new legislative session. 

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"We’ve had PTSD coverage for correctional and law enforcement officers, it’s long overdue that we have it for our civilians that deal with these stressful situations as well," said Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman.

Sheriff Hoffman and State Representative Fiona McFarland are pushing for an extension of PTSD coverage, for all crime scene technicians and 911 dispatchers. 

"Unfortunately, we’ve had incidents where we have been talking to people in crisis, and you hear a gun shot or the voice of a distressed mother saying they just found their child at the beach or at the bottom of a swimming pool, those are very stressful calls that they have to deal with," said Sheriff Hoffman.

Dispatchers during Hurricane Ian remained a calming voice for 800 callers in the county as winds grew too strong for first responders on the ground. Yearly, 700,000 calls come into the center. 

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"We had dispatchers walking them through medical emergencies, roofs being ripped off when they didn’t know what else to do and all they could do was talk. They couldn’t send anyone to help," said Rep. McFarland. 

Every call was answered, and one dispatcher said it went on for three days. 

Sheriff Hoffman and Rep. McFarland hopes the legislature will listen and provide help to those working on and behind every call and crime scene. Senator Danny Burgess is co-sponsoring the bill. 

Senate Bill 352 and House Bill 337 has the backing of Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis. Patronis helped secure PTSD benefits for sworn first responders in 2018. 

"They do the same work. They just happen to be civilians and not uniformed, and it made total sense to me, we should be taking care of these guys like our first responders," said Rep. McFarland.