Each year, the second full week of April is dedicated to the men and women who serve as public safety telecommunicators. Although we know from history that the idea started in 1981 with Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office, we’ve learned a little more regarding how that came about.
Here’s the rest of the story, as told to Christina L. Dravis, RPL, ENP by Lisa Hoffmann:
“In the historic days of dispatch, when we were called “dispatchers,” and 9-1-1 was not yet fully deployed in the United States, public safety telecommunicators were very much heard and not seen. However since 1955 the work of administrative assistants (then called secretaries) were celebrated, and in 1981 the last week in April was dedicated to that purpose. Contra Costa County Sheriff Richard Rainey was determined to acknowledge his administrative staff that year by treating them all to lunch. Sheriff Rainey did not realize that administration’s practice was to never let their phone lines go unanswered. After business hours, the secretarial and clerical lines were forwarded to dispatch to process (basically tell them to call back during business hours). Because these were administrative lines, it generally did not impact the dispatch center because the volume was very low.
“At 11:00 a.m., without thinking, the administration staff pushed all their calls to dispatch and left the building. Dispatch was caught completely by surprise when our phone volume suddenly jumped (while we were at minimums due to meal breaks). The supervisor called admin to find out what was going on, only to have the call rerouted back to dispatch! She then sent a dispatcher to the admin side of the office to tell them to turn off the auto forward feature. The dispatcher came back to report that there was no one in administration!
“At 1:00 p.m. the administrative staff came back to work and disconnected the auto forward phone feature. Although the supervisor chose to be annoyed quietly, Patricia Anderson, a long time dispatcher, went to administration to give the Sheriff a piece of her mind. Sheriff Rainey apologized and promised Pat it would never happen again. Pat returned to dispatch and never said a word about her conversation with the Sheriff. Pat was a tenured dispatcher when Sheriff Rainey was hired as a deputy and she was very well respected by senior sworn staff members.
“At 2:00 p.m. the same afternoon, Sheriff Rainey and Under Sheriff Warren Rupf walked into dispatch with a giant beautifully-decorated cake that said, “Happy Dispatcher Week.” With that very wise move, Sheriff Rainey, Under Sheriff Rupf, and Dispatcher Patricia Anderson started an initiative that culminated in what we now know as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
“Although I was hired in April of 1982 I will always remember the Sheriff or Undersheriff coming into dispatch each April to thank us for our work, dedication, and professionalism. When President Clinton signed the act into law, our local celebration became a national initiative. I know Pat (who was my training officer) was incredibly honored and pleased by this national acknowledgement.”