How to Become a 911 Operator: Job Description, Training & Salary

Discover the details of becoming a 911 operator. Learn about the job description, the required training and the potential salary to see if this is a good career for you. Schools offering Fire & Emergency Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

911 operators receive emergency phone calls, analyze the situation and send out the appropriate agency to help. A high school diploma is typically required, as is training and certification. Get more information on the career from the table below.

Degree Required High school diploma
Training Required Training varies by state
Key Skills Decision-making, multi-tasking, communication
Licensure Required In some states
Job Growth (2016-2026) 8% (police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers)*
Median Salary (2017) $39,640 per year (police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do 911 Operators Do?

911 dispatchers take calls from people who are experiencing an emergency. Their job is to listen to the caller, determine the nature of the emergency and contact the appropriate agency (such as the fire department, the police or emergency medical services). They may need to help the person on the other end of the line stay calm through a stressful situation and, in some cases, they may even be asked to give basic medical instructions. Throughout the call and after, 911 operators take notes detailing information about the caller and the emergency.

What Training Do You Need?

No federal regulation exists, so every state has different requirements when it comes to training for 911 dispatchers. Some states mandate training and continuing education, while others handle their own training within each agency. Training typically includes things like geography, dealing with high-risk situations and standard procedures and protocols. Operators are also trained in how to use special equipment and computer programs necessary for the job.

What Licensure Do You Need?

As with the training, requirements for certification also differ from state to state. Many do require some sort of certification. One of the more common ones is the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) certification, which allows operators to assist callers medically over the phone. There are also some voluntary certifications that show the dispatcher's dedication to, and understanding of, the profession. These include the Registered Public-Safety Leader (RPL) certification from the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials and the Emergency Number Professional (ENP) from the National Emergency Number Association.

What Can You Make as a 911 Operator?

Because emergencies happen 24/7, 911 operators are often asked to work long shifts during odd hours, including overnights, weekends and holidays. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for police, fire and ambulance dispatchers in May 2017 was $39,640 a year.

What's the Job Outlook?

Being a 911 operator can be stressful and difficult. As a result, much of the demand for new dispatchers will come from people who retire or leave the workforce. Being able to handle emotional, often tragic situations and work long hours will help your chances of getting into (and staying in) the career. The BLS predicts employment for police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers to increase by 8% between 2016 and 2026, which is about on par with the average for all other occupations.

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