Laire, Foote honored for public safety service
Montgomery County’s 911 supervisor Jackie Laire and telecommunicator Shari Foote were recently honored for their decades of service dispatching first responders.
Earlier in May, Laire and Foote attended the Iowa APCO/NENA Conference in Des Moines, receiving Milestone awards. Laire was honored for 45 years of service in Montgomery County, while Foote was honored for 25 years of service. Montgomery County’s dispatch center is in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, and Laire and Foote are among a total of eight dispatchers employed by the county.
Laire, who will begin her 46th year of service with the county in September of this year, said when they first moved to town, her husband was a firefighter, and she started working for the Red Oak Police Department around 1975 before later transitioning to her current role as a Montgomery County dispatcher.
“When I first started, Red Oak Police had 24-hour dispatchers, but the sheriff’s office did not. A couple of year’s later, then-Sheriff Dick Harrell was able to get board approval for 24-hour dispatchers at the sheriff’s office. He had approached me and asked if I’d consider leaving the police department and serving as a sheriff’s office dispatcher, and so I did. I started in September of 1977,” Laire said.
Initially, the dispatchers were separated between the police department and sheriff’s office. Later, in the early 1990s, the county dispatch center expanded into basic 911 services and combined into one center
“At the start, basic 911 allowed phone companies to route a 10-digit number to the sheriff’s office. Around 1997, we moved to the enhanced 911 system. After that, there was more talk about one dispatch center, and we finally went to one center in November of 2001,” stated Laire.
Laire admitted that in the early years of her dispatch career, she wasn’t expecting it to be long-term, nor did she expect the changes that would come with the job over the years.
“I would never have thought on the day I walked into the police station that I’d eventually move into dispatch and still be doing it 45 years later, but once I got it in my blood, I’ve never had any desire to do anything else but this. Every day, there’s something different,” commented Laire. “I was the first hire Sheriff Harrell made, and he asked for my input on the hiring of the other three dispatchers at that time. Also, we were working as jailers, and did both duties. Throughout the years, we’ve added 24-hour, 365 day corrections officers to the staff.
As the years have gone by, Laire said there have been a number of improvements that have made her role much more efficient, the implementation of 911 being the best thing that could have happened.
“It really helped law enforcement and first responders by doing away with rural route addresses. When rural routes were in place and we got a call, the rural route address tells us nothing, so we’d have to dispatch the address as being two miles west of Red Oak, or one mile north of Red Oak as an example. When 911 came in, every rural route was given a four digit address with a main street or an avenue, and now we can get our responders a pinpoint address. They know exactly where to go because they know our addressing scheme for the county,” advised Laire.
Another vast improvement, Laire said, has been the equipment upgrades she’s seen over the years.
“I never would have thought there would be emails, or a computerized aided dispatching system. Whenever a call comes in, it goes into our call-taking screen, and we fill it out and log it as our caller is giving us the information, and dispatch it out to our units, and it automatically logs the times that everything is being done, which is much more accurate than the way it was, where we wrote it down on a sheet of paper,” Laire said.
The last major improvement, according to Laire, happened less than five years ago, when the county transitioned from its UHF radio system to the new radio system.
“It served its purpose, and we did as much as we could do with the UHF system to have coverage all over the county, but it was poor in certain areas, and we would have trouble hearing our first responders and vice-versa. Now we’re on the state system, and it’s great. We have good coverage, we can hear each other, and we have operability with other counties,” Laire stated.
Throughout her 45-year career as a dispatcher, Laire said the most rewarding aspect is a positive resolution to an emergency call.
“Whenever you take a call, and handle it to the best of your abilities, when the call resolves in a positive manner, I think that has to be about the best feeling you can have as a dispatcher. We are the first responder. We’re taking the information and how we handle the information here helps out our emergency responder out there. It’s a rewarding feeling to take a call and know that you’ve helped someone. That’s what we’re about, and that’s what we’re here for,” Laire commented.
Foote who joined the dispatch center 25 years ago, said she pursued the field for a better opportunity for her family.
“I was a single mom with two little kids who was looking for a better job than what I had, and something that would provide for my children at the time,” Foote said.
While there are a number of reasons why she stayed with the center, Foote said one of the biggest reasons is to be able to help people.
“It’s interesting to come here every day and never know what you’re going to face or run into. Sending our emergency responders out and making sure they come back safe is a huge priority here. It’s also a huge priority to keep the public safe,” explained Foote. “I was 23 years old when I started and had no idea where life was going to take me. Now I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. If I could talk one of my kids into following in my footsteps, I would.”
For Foote, the biggest improvement she’s seen in helping make her job more smooth and efficient is all the advances that have been made in cell phones.
“The technology that has been added to cell phones is great. The cell phones have Rapid SOS, and it can locate a person within a certain perimeter of where they are. My sister had the first chunky cell phone when they first came out. The fact that they’ve got all this technology in such a small device allows it to do so many different things, and it helps us, as well as the public, with knowing where they’re at if they need help,” Foote stated.
“On the flip side of that society has changed a lot, I would have never imagined when I had children there would be such a vast variety of social media outlets available for use. There is a good and bad side to that with all the information that people chose to share with the public, more issues that get debated in such public forum,” Foote said. “The increase in mass shootings in the country and gun violence toward officers and first responders, unfortunately it is important that we realize that it can happen anywhere even in rural America, and we always have to train and use our resources to our advantage. There are a lot of responsibilities when it comes to this career and there are always so many different things in motion in any event we handle, we have a plethora of sources to train for such situations you will never be fully prepared if that sort of thing happens but you can try to do your best if it does”
For Foote, the most rewarding aspect of the job is being able to help people, even if it can be a thankless job sometimes.
“A lot of people assume that’s just what we’re here for, and think it’s just another day to us, but sometimes, we take a call that we don’t know the resolution, and that’s hard for us, but after all these years, I love being able to help. We’re a team, and we all are in here to help each other. I’m proud of everyone I work with here,” Foote commented.
Both Foote and Laire also issued a public service announcement to Red Oak and other communities in the county: If you accidentally dial 911, don’t hang up.
“We’ve had a huge uptick in 911 hang-up calls. With the technology on the phones, if you push the side button a certain number of times, it will dial 911 and people panic and hang up because they don’t have an emergency. You’re not going to be in trouble if you accidentally call,” advised Foote. If you stay on the line, then it’s easier for us because we’ll know there isn’t an emergency,” Foote said. “Also, even if a cell phone is disconnected and you give it to a child to play with, those phones can still call 911, and if they accidentally call, we won’t know they’re not having an emergency or where they’re at if they don’t stay on the line.”
Foote added that when an emergency call is accidentally made, it rings the 911 center for one entire ring before it rings on the person’s own phone, which ordinarily means the dispatch center has already initiated a response to the call before the caller realizes a call has been accidentally made.
Also, Laire said that the center has police in place to call back if a 911 call is disconnected, and if they have a good location and can’t get anyone to answer, they’ll automatically send out an officer to that location, so Foote and Laire said just waiting on the line to notify the center the emergency call was made accidentally is the best course of action.