Emergency dispatchers see many changes to job

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It isn't easy to give up a job you've done for 25 or 30 years.

For Virginia Boyd of Pomeroy, saying goodbye to her coworkers and the cramped basement office she shares with the jail kitchen is bittersweet.

She knows that at 69 it's "time to go home" to take care of long-neglected matters, but she has seen the Garfield County Sheriff's Office through many changes and advancements, and it's hard to leave the co-workers who are also the hub of her social life.

"When I first came in 1986 we had one desk, a push-to-talk radio and a telephone. We wrote everything down by hand," she recalled.

Across the county line, and 35 miles to the southwest, Tim Quigg, 53, sits in his new office in the basement of the Columbia County Courthouse.

Four monitors surround his conference table-turned desk. Keys, a telephone, coffee mug, cellphone, stapler, tape dispenser and business card dispenser leave plenty of room for tasks Quigg may need to do.

Quigg was hired Nov. 1, 1981, as a reserve deputy. Three months later he was offered a dispatch job, although he continued as a reserve deputy for 16 more years.

Quigg's dispatcher training took two weeks.

Today, novice dispatchers spend four to six months in training before they are allowed to independently answer calls.

His job changed to communication center manager in February when county Emergency Management Service took over running the dispatching services.

"It's really hard doing something your whole life and watching someone else do your job," Quigg said.

He can offer his help when needed, but he is not scheduled to work in the dispatch room. With his office door open, he hears the phone and radio calls, and has to sit on his hands to stay away, he said.

From a file drawer, he pulled out a box, opened it and removed a set of headphones. Rubbing them with his thumbs, he smiled and said "I kept these."

For Boyd, who embraced the advances in technology as they came along, leaving as she sees even more advances on the horizon is difficult.

"I'm very disappointed. I keep seeing new things coming that I want to be involved with," she said.

Boyd got her introduction to technology when she started as a typesetter for the East Washingtonian, Pomeroy's weekly newspaper. The newspaper used hot type until the mid-1970s when the paper moved to offset printing, using a Compugraphic to set copy.

"I got so I could repair the Compugraphic," she said.

She developed spreadsheets for the family farm on her 128k Macintosh computer.

For a time after she started with the Sheriff's Office, she had two other jobs, editing and typing documents for Manuscripts International, and working as a convenience store clerk.

She became a full-time dispatcher in 1991, and E911 coordinator and administrative assistant in 2000.

Boyd moved to Garfield County when she married farmer Buddy Boyd. She grew up in Joseph, Ore.

Buddy died in 2003, and Boyd continues to run the farm, along with help from her son Larry and grandson Jesse Tennant. She expects Jesse to take over management of the farm.

Quigg moved to Dayton, his father's hometown, after he graduated from Washington State University in 1979. He first worked for Dwight Robanske at Robanske's father's grocery, Freddy's Market. It was while working there that Sgt. Mitchell approached him about working at the Sheriff's Office.

His beginning pay in 1981 was $9,280 gross. "I make substantially more than that now."

"I originally took this job because it was a job, but over time I realized I was making a difference in the community. There's a certain degree of satisfaction to know there are people walking the streets because I was on the other end of the phone giving Heimlich or CPR instructions."

"In a sense it's gratifying to know I did make a difference in serving the community. I hope I can continue to do that in supervision," Quigg said.

Boyd sees that above all her job allowed her to be of service to people.

"This job is all about public service and helping people," she said.

She recalled the time before caller ID when she answered a call from a 4-year-old boy who couldn't tell her where he lived, or his name. He did tell her his mother was unconscious on the floor, and he had put a cold cloth on her head, and that his 2-year-old brother was there.

Boyd kept asking him questions, finally asking if he had any friends. He answered "Whit."

The sheriff knew someone named Whit and with that information they were able to identify the boy and where he lived. "We were able to get neighbors in there to help the kids."

The mother, who had recently had surgery had fainted, but was fine, Boyd said.

The call was somewhat personal for Boyd. "He was the same age as my grandson."

Quigg recalled a call that was very personal for him, although he didn't realize it until it was over.

A man called, saying his wife was lying on the floor and not breathing.

It wasn't until he gave ambulance crews the address that he realized he was giving his grandfather CPR instructions for his grandmother.

That experience made Quigg realize how ingrained his training was, and that sometimes he needed to step back and regain his humanity.

"It's really hard sometimes not to be a robot," he said. "We're dealing with people who are having the worst day of their life and try to keep in perspective you're dealing with a human being."

While Quigg expects to work at least 10 more years, Boyd knows she's headed to another phase in her life after Dec. 31, though not without regrets.

"This was my social life. I'm going to be crying a lot, I'm afraid," she said.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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