Four Fire Dispatchers Juggle Cecil’s Emergency Calls in 1967

Marie Cooling, a fire dispatcher, takes a call.  Source:  Cecil Democrat, Aug. 30, 1967/

Marie Cooling, a fire dispatcher, takes a call. Source: Cecil Democrat, Aug. 30, 1967/

The Cecil Democrat, a weekly newspaper, published a series of interviews with public officials about local agencies in 1967.  That august the paper put the “spotlight” on Civil Defense and the nearly six-year-old central fire dispatch system as a reporter talked to Marie Cooling.

“Fire headquarters” had gone on the air in October 1961, working out a concrete-block one story building in back of the jail.  The “operators,” as they were known, dispatched fire and ambulance calls and relayed messages to the Elkton Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and the Maryland State Police.  Before the launch of the 24-hour operation companies had radio equipped vehicles and bases in the fire stations, but the system-wide network didn’t exist.  In that earlier time, Marie noted that people called the company’s directly, dialed the operator, or telephoned the canal dispatcher in Chesapeake City.

Four county employees staffed the 24/7 operation, as one dispatcher, working alone, juggled the telephone calls and radio traffic.  In addition to Marie, the “operators” included:  James Penhollow, Rosemary Culley, and Roland Reynolds.

The reporter asked if there was a time when there had been a general alarm in the county requiring all apparatus. “Oh yes.  Once we had a big fire at Marysville and we had everything in the county, plus equipment from Havre de Grace and Newark.”

The “control center” was preparing to move deep below the ground of the new courthouse that was under construction, into a specially constructed fallout shelter that was designed to allow local government to continue functioning during a nuclear attack.  “It is intended to be bomb proof,” she remarked.

Rosemary Culley, another original dispatcher, handles the fire board in 1966.  Source: Cecil Whig, Dec. 14, 1966

Rosemary Culley, another original dispatcher, handles the fire board in 1966. Source: Cecil Whig, Dec. 14, 1966

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