By Colleen Conrad
I decided to take on the challenge of writing a regular column for The Journal because I want to be that voice: the one of the calltaker, the one of the dispatcher, and the one of the supervisor. I have been and still am the person who has worked on the telephones taking the calls, the calm voice reaching out to the officers and firefighters through the radio, and the supervisor who hopes she’s been the support that her dispatchers have needed.
I have been in this business a long time. Often I tease that I started in this line of business before dirt was invented. There are times when the reality of those years slaps me in the face. To be honest, when I first started we were working on the department’s very first CAD and it had not been long since they had been working on a manual card protocol system. We are now on the fourth CAD of my career.
When I started working as a records clerk for the Salt Lake City Police Department, I had an eight-month-old infant. That infant has grown into one of the most wonderful women I know and she has given me two grandchildren—both of whom are older than she was when I started. I had two more just-as-awesome children besides that full-grown infant and am now on my third husband. Makes me think of a bad Jeff Foxworthy joke … You know you work in public safety when you’ve had more spouses than you have pairs of jeans.
As we get ready to move Salt Lake City 9-1-1 into its new palatial home in the city’s brand new Public Safety Building in August, I reflect on things that I have seen, things that I have done, and things that I have experienced over the last 31 years. When I started my job it was big hair, leg warmers, and bangle bracelets. Now it’s all iPhones, iPads, and straight hair.
This is the second move I have seen. Our original home was a condemned high-rise that stood above the county’s jail. More than once we would turn to see a cockroach scurrying across the floor or a mouse in the kitchen. Our statewide 9-1-1 office was in the basement of the building, along with the sheriff’s office dispatch. The 9-1-1 operators would answer all of the incoming 9-1-1 calls throughout the state. They would prioritize the call and then connect that call to the correct agency. They were literally like switchboard operators you would see in an old movie—or anyone over 40 years old would remember Lily Tomlin’s one ringy dingy. Their office had 2 x 4 planks across the floor over the little streams of water that would leak in the basement. You would cross them like a balance beam in order to avoid walking in the puddles of water.
We even dealt with prisoners escaping from their holding cells through the false ceilings to adjoining rooms and walking out of their confines. Sometimes, below our floors, angry jail prisoners would start clanging and banging around their cells and the floor would rumble from their antics.
In 1988, we moved to a converted office building that had been vacant for a few years. It was never meant to be a home for what it’s being used for. Water leaks in our evidence room have ruined property. A rainstorm through a leaky roof in our electronics room completely fried our electronics, taking out our computers, our phones, and a lot of our lights. We couldn’t receive 9-1-1 calls. We couldn’t do much of anything. One weekend day, a fire alarm went off. Upon inspection, one of the supervisors found wires had fried and an electrical fire had started up the wall. My favorite day (insert sarcasm) was the day the water fountains backed up with some type of sewage and black sludge came spewing and oozing out of the fountain heads that we would get our drinking water from. Many dispatchers have been late for work because they have been stuck in the elevator.
You can now see why I am looking forward to the move to our new building. To me, it’s not just a building—it’s a palace. A palace where we won’t trip and fall over each other, where there are beautiful mountain views, and a place of happily ever after. Okay, I know it’s a dispatch office and happily ever after is a bunch of crazy talk—but a princess can dream, can’t she?