ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
William Price at his work station at the Wayne Alarm building in Lynn on his last day of work before retiring after 32 years.
BY THOR JOURGENSEN
LYNN — Fire alarm dispatcher William Price worked his final shift Thursday night, but for 32 years, he fielded emergency calls from across the city and sent fire department trucks and their crews rolling onto city streets to save lives.
“He is the best dispatcher Lynn has ever had. Billy knows every street in the city,” said dispatcher Cheryl Teehan.
Price’s replacement has been hired, but Teehan and District Fire Chief Stephen Archer said his retirement will leave a hard-to-fill void in the fire department.
“Replacing his skills will be incredibly tough,” Archer said.
Working out of a room in the Wayne Alarm building, surrounded by computer screens, Price has spent afternoons and nights on the job helping callers take the first steps to save a loved one’s life and fielding winter calls from people wondering if it is safe enough to venture onto the city’s frozen ponds.
“We always say ‘no,’ ” he said.
The Lynn native grew up near St. Jean’s Cemetery and graduated from St. Mary’s Boys High School in 1969. His first jobs were with the federal government, but a passion for firefighting prompted him to apply for a dispatcher’s job. In October 1983, he started working in the fire alarm room located in the former Franklin Street fire station.
“It was a fire trap. There was one way out and that was out the window,” Price said.
When the city adopted emergency 911 dispatch in 1995, the fire alarm operation moved to the Wayne Alarm building on Essex Street, where Price and other dispatchers monitored a battery of six computer screens to receive calls and dispatch emergency responses.
Calls into the fire alarm office display the caller’s address on a computer screen with a second screen showing the address on a map. It’s the dispatcher’s job to send fire equipment to the address using a decidedly low-technology method: a tone sounded in the responding fire house alerts engine or ladder company crews to the emergency.
Dispatchers follow up the tone alert with instructions about the emergency response.
“The tone makes you stop, pause and pay attention to the instructions that follow,” Archer explained.
Price said it is impossible to predict how many calls will come into dispatch during a particular shift — the only exception is bad weather when calls light up the computer screens.
“It can be a real quiet night or a hectic night,” he said.
He said medical calls were the toughest responses he handled. Dispatchers refer to a set of 33 medical-procedure cards to walk callers through basic emergency medical steps even as they send emergency personnel to the caller’s address.
“What is really tough is cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructions. You’ve got to calm someone down who has a loved one lying on the ground. I first tell them, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to transfer you,’” Price said.
Retirement means more time for Price, 65, to pursue his passion for poker. His favorite poker rooms include one in Seabrook, N.H. Price said he will miss helping people for a living.
“I really enjoyed it — especially the tough cases,” he said.
Thor Jourgensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.