Friday, October 16, 2015

Tribute to a Dispatcher: RIP Gary Allen

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
    But O heart! heart! heart!
      O the bleeding drops of red,
      Where on the deck my Captain lies,
      Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
    Here Captain! dear father!
      This arm beneath your head!
      It is some dream that on the deck,
      You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
      Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
      But I with mournful tread,
      Walk the deck my Captain lies,
      Fallen cold and dead.

Walt Whitman

Gary Allen passed away from an illness. I am not speaking of the Country-western singer but of a friend and former co-worker. If you didn’t know Gary, I pity you. Who was he?

Let me start by talking about how I first met him. Gary was a Public Safety Dispatcher, and Reserve Police Officer, for the Berkeley Police Department. Berkeley is a small city on the east side of the San Francisco Bay in the northern part of California. As far as physical geography, the City of Berkeley isn’t that big but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character and history. I started there in 1987. Gary worked the swing (afternoon) shift. He was a tall, lanky guy with a big grin. When the police and fire were separate, Gary was a fire dispatcher who came over when the two were combined. I found out he was active in the dispatch community, writing articles for trade journals (APCO’s magazine and 911).

Gary rarely said a bad word about anyone. He had a quiet wit. He wouldn’t spout off with a string of cursing like many of us did. Every now and then, he’d surprise us with a one-liner that would have us in stitches. After he made Supervisor, he stayed on swing shift. When I made Supervisor, I stayed on nights, where I had been for eight years. One evening he came to me and apologized, telling me the next shift bid he was moving to nights. I would get ‘bumped’ to swings. Nothing personal, he said. He finally quit as a dispatcher although he continued with the Reserve Officer duties.

Gary was the kind of guy you could count on. He was one of the folks I used as a reference. He always said nice things for the investigators doing the backgrounds. He had taken over a newsletter called Dispatch Monthly. He changed it from a paper form to an online version. He also maintained the website of the same name. His site was used by countless dispatchers for news, training tapes, information, and chat boards. The site went dark when he became ill. You can still find articles written by Gary if you search the internet or go to APCOs historical site.

I will miss Gary. My heart goes out to his wife and family. Rest in peace, my friend. I’m sure your restless urge to help will have you organizing the afterlife in some form.
The world is emptier for the lack of his presence.

Stay safe out there.

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