Friday, November 27, 2020

Old-Timers, Dispatchers, and Death after Retirement


Remember the first day in the Communications Center as a probationary Dispatcher? There may have been (depending on the staffing levels) a mix of ages but guaranteed, there was at least one or two “old salts” on the staffing list. Perhaps he/she was friendly but most likely the veteran Dispatcher(s) were aloof.

Why, you probably asked yourself, is that person so gruff or mean? Why can’t he/she have more patience? Why does he/she seem so critical or the new rookies? I bet you even promised yourself you would never get like that.

Those old dogs knew a lot, didn’t they? You could ask just about any question and not stump them. They were almost unflappable. Many worked the system before cell phones, digital phones, the internet, personal computers, and in some cases, computer-aided-dispatch systems (CAD). A few even remembered basic 9-1-1 upgrades or a time before paramedics ran advanced life support. Somehow, without the advanced technology, the managed to get the job done.

Funny, now you ARE that old-timer. How often do you mutter about the newbies? How often are you tapped about agency history or obscure questions? There is a saying, “He/she knows where the ‘bodies’ are buried” Not in the literal sense, of course but you probably know a lot about the skeletons of the agency. At least, you understand “why” strange procedures are in place (there is always a reason, right?). Who else can recall the off-the-wall CAD commands or knows who that person calling is, who claims to be a retired officer?

Change can be tough.  Our profession demands we adapt and yet calls still come in via telephones. The primary means of communication is still via a two-way radio. 9-1-1 has evolved with text-to-9-1-1. Documentation of events is via CAD instead of paper. We no longer change huge reel-to-reel logging tapes; instead, our recordings are via digital loggers often maintained on “the cloud”.

Despite all the upgrades, people are flesh and blood. The human factor has not different and no automatic system will take away the Public Safety Telecommunicator (once known as Dispatcher). The was position once relegated to light-duty field units and then given to civilian personnel. Now, no basic Administrative Assistant can walk in and take over the job without specialized training. No light-duty field unit could do the same. So, why won’t the Feds re-classify our (PST) position as “First Responders”?

Good question. The Associated Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) continue to press Washington to do this.


Mortality lies to slap humans upside the head on occasion to remind each of us we are not going to live forever. This week I opened an email to learn of a death of a retired officer I once worked with. A few weeks ago, another one had passed on. That is two within a short time. Two men from different agencies, both well respected, with a long history of accolades. 

I am starting to lose count of the retired co-workers who have left this Earth.

Sadly, I am a member of thee “baby-boomer” generation. That means older members of friends, family, and those now retired, are reaching the point where their days are numbered. I know it is only a matter of time before the phone calls shatter my composure.

It really does suck getting older.

Dave: I’ll miss your candor and sense of humor. You led by example. You were also my first real contact with NDOW. We spent most of the interview exchanging stories and laughing.  Hugh: respect, man. You always gave credit where it was due. You took care of your area and was a mentor to so many. Both of you will be missed. Rest in Peace.

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