Off the air ...

Dispatcher retiring after 18 years

Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Midway through her career as a police and emergency services dispatcher, Dottie Ayer gave up all her seniority and the benefits she had earned with the Kenai Peninsula Borough and became a state employee.

The Soldotna communications center had become an entity of the Alaska State Troopers.

This week Ayer retires after more than 18 years in the high-stress job and that's only how long she's been at it on the peninsula.

When asked how she chose the emergency services dispatcher career path, Ayer, who ultimately rose to the rank of communications center manager, said she married a deputy sheriff in a rural Northern California community and started dispatching then and there.

Dottie and Sid Ayer moved to Alaska's North Slope in 1980 when Sid got a job as a borough public safety officer, and they arrived in Kenai a few years later. Dottie hired on as a full-time dispatcher in 1986.

Back then, she says, dispatchers might receive one phone call about a traffic accident, and they talked to the fire department and medics once a day, at most.

As communications technology advanced and the popularity of cell phones increased, the number of calls per accident soared and, as the population of the peninsula rose, so did the number of incidents.

The advent of the 911 emergency phone system also added to the call volume, while greatly improving the response of medical staff and troopers to emergencies, Ayer said.

Not one to simply sit at the phones and wait for an emergency, Ayer has been instrumental in changing policy and procedures of emergency dispatchers.

"Troopers in the field see all the blood and gore, but they have closure (after responding to a call)," Ayer said.

"Sometimes we don't get that closure. We're left with a lot of questions, which can be worse."

One procedure she helped implement allows dispatchers in training to ride along with troopers to "get the feel of what troopers go through," she said.

As the center manager, Ayer also assembled the training course dispatchers now complete, which incorporates national training in talking with callers reporting medical emergencies such as heart attacks and babies being born.

In her career, Ayer has telephonically helped five women give birth with crying success.

Working in such a relatively untamed area as the peninsula, she's dealt with bear maulings and wildfires, and being near Cook Inlet, she's taken calls many times for boats going down and planes going in the drink.

"Once about five or six years ago, there was a big brush fire, and three of us (dispatchers) took over 90 911 calls in one hour," she said.

Her advice to people considering emergency dispatching as a career is that they "be multitasking, be flexible and have a certain strength to be able to make decisions."

"E" Detachment Trooper Capt. Tom Bowman added, "Those life and death decisions need to become a routine thing."

When asked if the veteran dispatcher will be missed, Bowman said, "Absolutely, we'll miss her.

"Not only did she steward us out of the dark ages to the new technology, but she trained many new dispatchers and trained new troopers on radio (procedure)," he said.

Bowman also said Ayer is the type of supervisor who selflessly covers shifts for other dispatchers who might need time off for doctors' appointments and special occasions.

Ayer, whose husband also is retired, plans to spend more time with her grown children: Cyndy, 32, Sandy, 30, and Renee, 28, and her grandchildren: Sierra, 9, Tristin, 6, Taylor, 2, and Mike 1.

"There are also babies due in November and January," she said with a smile.

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