24 Years Later
On Sept 9, 1998 I joined the communications division of the Christiansburg Police Department. Although I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. I did know that I wanted to do something with people. I get bored easily and wanted to be as interactive as possible. (I had previously worked in an accounting department for a manufacturing plant, and I knew that looking at numbers all day wasn't going to keep me interested).
Serendipitously, an opportunity to work with people presented itself pretty quickly in a newspaper ad for a position at the police department. I applied and was hired as a Public Safety Telecommunicator. I was (and still am) so proud to serve my community. I still had no idea of the many ways in which I would change, let alone realize that I would be a change for others.
I often regret not writing a book, or keeping notes on the multiple events I've been involved in, but maybe those things really shouldn't be written down. The details of others' joys and sorrows don't always belong to the ages. Maybe by failing to write them down, I don't have to relive them continuously, because quite frankly some of them are horrifying.
Public Safety Telecommunications showed me so many things I wish I'd never known (so many of the tragedies, to this day, my voice still trembles when I speak them). The darkness of humanity hurt my heart and there were times that I sat in the parking lot wondering if or how I could go on. One day I even sat in the chief’s office and said, "I'm sorry, I'm not sure I can do this anymore". He said to me words that I will never forget. Chief Sisson looked me straight in the eyes and said, "If not you, then who?"
In that moment I knew I'd been called to Do More. I fully accepted my mission to be a light in the darkness for someone who didn't know the way. Sometimes in PST that means giving directions or explaining that Trick or Treat takes place on October 31st, and sometimes that means gathering the exact details needed to catch the assailant or find the lost child, or save a life. I suddenly knew my relevance and it empowered me. I adopted the attitude that my assignment was simply to make a difference every single day.
Those things rewrote my DNA to some extent, but in other ways allowed the true me to shine through and live more fully. This translated to allowing myself to explore other areas in life where I could be successful. I became a Zumba instructor, and I ran a half marathon and I have organized fund raising events for several charities.
There aren't perfect moments in the 911 industry but there are moments that can be lived perfectly by applying our very best self to each and every call. This profession has not only changed me, but it's changed tremendously, especially in terms of technology.
In 1998, I didn't even have my own cell phone yet. Our agency did not have CAD. We had an ink pen and a tablet (no, not that kind of tablet) of paper (custom printed from local print shop) with a place for call number, our initials, the date, time in, time dispatched, details along with ten codes or IBR codes, who it was assigned to, and what the final disposition was.
Recordings of all radio traffic and phone calls were made on a reel to reel that we changed the tape on every night at midnight. Our records were all sorted and searched by hand when looking for a case, or detail from a prior call. We used an IBM Selectric typewriter to write up a shift report at the end of shift. That report was then used for Roll Call (which all telecommunicators attended). We had to transmit our call signs across the radio at certain intervals and we had a manual air raid type siren for the fire department.
Taking stock of all that has changed over the years in technology, feels enormous but the one thing that has not changed is that our assignment every day is to make a difference.
I am still proud to be a part of the public safety solution, even after so many years. I am so impressed by the immerging leaders in our field, and right here in my agency. One thing that I want to remind everyone about, is that we are all better together. Find a mentor or a friend for when you start to question your calling, and if you can't find one, be one.