CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A first of its kind bill will motivate 911 dispatchers in the Mountain State to stay on longer but retire sooner.

Lawmakers and Kanawha County Commission members joined emergency officials and telecommunicators Tuesday afternoon at Kanawha County Metro 911 to watch as Governor Jim Justice sign the Statewide 911 Retirement bill, the first of its kind in the state and in the nation.

“I mean, when it really boils right down to it, you’re heroes, you’ve done so much for this great state it’s unbelievable, and every single day, you step up and you do things that are unimaginable for us that don’t do it,” Justice said to telecommunicators at Tuesday’s bill signing.

Governor Justice signs Statewide 911 Retirement bill (Photo WVMetroNews)

Kanawha County Metro 911 Director John Rutherford said the bill creates an all new retirement system for 911 dispatchers and telecommunicators that allows them to retire as early as the age of 50 after 20 years of service.

He said being a public safety employee can be a highly stressful job– from shootings and police pursuits, to performing CPR and saving lives– adding that this makes the turnover rate for the job to also be very high.

However, Rutherford said that this bill will help to encourage emergency personnel to stay at the job.

“This will enable us to tell an employee, ‘stick with us another ten years, you’ve got experience, you can save lives, you can keep our citizens safe, stay with us,’ and that enables us to do that,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford has been with Metro 911 for 12 years, and he said prior to the bill, he had only seen three people retire from the job.

During the signing ceremony, Rutherford recognized Senator Eric Nelson, one of the many lawmakers there at Tuesday’s event, who had been a longtime advocate of bill.

He also recognized the Kanawha County Commission for their longtime support of the bill, as well. Rutherford particularly wanted to recognize Commissioner Kent Carper who had worked closely with him for over 30 years. He said in that time, Carper had always supported the improvement of the county’s’ public safety standards through the Public Safety grant, and awarding funding to the volunteer fire department, police and EMS.

Rutherford said they have all been working with legislators to pass the bill for a total of 7 years, and now that it’s finally passed, it changes everything.

“When they answer the phone now you’re going to have an experienced employee who can give you instructions on how to stop the bleed, how to do CPR, keep police officers safe during pursuits by relaying information, it changes everything about public safety, makes it better and improves the profession,” Rutherford said.

Derek Johnson has been an employee at Kanawha County Metro 911 for 16 years. He was one of the many 911 telecommunicators at the event Tuesday who was more than happy to see the governor’s pen hit the paper to sign the bill.

Johnson said the job has always struggled with retention as employees have to deal with people on their worst days, something not many can do for decades on end. but he said this bill should help improve retention rates and boost overall workplace morale.

“With the old retirement system we did have, you would have to work until you were 62 before you could retire, this enables, once you get 20 years of service, age 50, you can retire, draw, and enjoy life, and after 20 years, you’re ready,” he said.

He said the role has vastly improved for all of them now.

“It takes it from being a job to a career, because you can come in, you can do 20 years, and a have a good retirement to look forward to at the end of your career,” Johnson said.

Rutherford said their 911 council is now in correspondence with other states’ 911 centers who are reaching out to them wanting to know the details of the retirement plan highlighted in the bill in hopes to implement something similar in their state.

He said the bill goes into effect January 1.

Story by WVMetroNews Reporter Katherine Skeldon