After 27 plus years, dispatcher moves on
ARENAC COUNTY — In 27 years of taking 911 calls, Elaine Fitzgerald has answered calls shook her for days, while others that made her laugh. But now, she’s moving on to a career in nursing.
“I’m going from one emergency to the next,” Fitzgerald said.
But the Arenac County Central Dispatch staff and its director Steven Wuelfing didn’t let her go quietly. It threw her a retirement party on Friday.
“We’re going to miss you,” Undersheriff Donald McIntyre told Fitzgerald at the party. “As well-suited as a dispatcher as you were, you’ll be well-suited to go into your next field.”
In the time of service spanning over two decades, while she also worked part-time at St. Mary’s of Michigan Standish Hospital and as an EMT and paramedic, Fitzgerald says she loved helping people, but sometimes had difficulty with all the sadness she heard while working as a dispatcher.
“My saddest call was the first suicide I lost over the phone. It took me years to get over that call,” she said. “That’s when I learned you can’t save everybody.”
However, not all calls were heartbreakers, Fitzgerald admitted many calls involving animals have led her to laughter, as did one call reporting lost condoms.
The animal calls, though, weren’t always funny. In fact, one provided Fitzgerald and her family – husband Robert and son Ryan – with a lifelong friend, the family’s dog, Jasmine.
She says a woman called 911, wanting to get in touch with animal control about a dog that had been dropped off at her house while she was out of town. Animal control was closed, however, and Fitzgerald says the dog was dropped off and put under her supervision in a box below her desk.
“I was getting up to leave and I accidentally kicked that box and said “I forgot all about that puppy,” she said. “I looked at her and thought ‘You are just too cute’ and she was such a good girl. … She was only eight weeks old.”
Instead of taking Jasmine to the pound, Fitzgerald took her home.
At her retirement open house, Fitzgerald also persuaded Wuelfing to give a certificate of merit to fellow dispatcher Dawn Tola, who received the award for helping save the lives of fishermen on a sinking ship last year.
“It’s kind of like Elaine to recognize someone else right at the end of her career when she’s being recognized,” Wuelfing said.