This is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week (April 13-19, 2014), a time when the United States honors the professionals who answer 911 calls and dispatch emergency responders. While the nation thanks public safety communicators, Window on Cecil County’s Past pauses to tip our hat to the County’s 911 calls-takers, dispatchers, and technicians who maintain our emergency communication system.
These men and women are on the front line of every urgent situation in Cecil, dealing with life and death situations 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week. They answer thousands of calls each year, coordinating the response of police officers, paramedics, fire fighters, hazmat technicians, medevac helicopters, and much more to incidents, while also providing guidance and instruction to citizens until first responders arrive. Their service is greatly appreciated.
At the same time, we pause to remember the four professionals who were the pioneer emergency communicators in Cecil. On Monday, October 2, 1961 at 12 p.m. sirens all across the county sounded, marking the beginning of professional, centralized communications as “fire headquarters” was on the air.
The Whig explained the operation. “It will be manned around the clock with trained personnel who have a knowledge of every piece of emergency equipment in the county, where it is located, what it can be used for, and the method for dispatching it without loss of time.”
Four fulltime county employees staffed the 24/7 operation. The one dispatcher alone on the shift juggled the telephone calls, handled radio traffic, and kept the FCC log. The “chief operator” Jack Cooke, was assisted by “operators” Rosemary Culley, Marie Cooling, and Jim Penhollow. Robert Eversole served as a relief operator.
Jim Penhollow recently recalled that it was a couple of days before the first emergency call came in. The times sure have changed and public safety communications has grown more complicated with each passing year. The week is sponsored by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
We salute our public safety communications professionals, current and past.