Photo provided by the Sheriff's Office.
He has the kind of voice akin to one's favorite song – an old familiar sound that can be listened to over and over and never becomes tiresome. For more than the past four decades, Jay Myers has been that song with the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Division.
Well, maybe he is more like a favorite crooner… Familiar. Reassuring. And for the county's residents who listen to the police and fire scanner calls, he is more recognized by the sound of his voice than what he looks like.
Although his last official day isn’t until July 30, on Tuesday, friends, family, and coworkers – past and present, gathered at the Vets Club in Warsaw to wish Senior Dispatcher Myers a happy retirement.
“I do notice it more when Jay is not on (the scanner). It’s kind of weird,” said Bliss Fire Chief Clarence George. “He just has everything down. He’s got two ends to run on accident calls, he has to coordinate all the backup as well… not just calling the ambulance to an accident, but he also has the responsibility of relaying the information to other authorities. I really hate to see him go but…retirement is nice.”
He sits in his chair before a bank of computers, under dim lights and with a headset secure in place. He is an unassuming man. Quiet. Shy. Modest about his impact as a dispatcher and almost bashful when one recognizes his voice.
Myers can not only claim the title of the longest employee with dispatch – although Myers does dispute this, he is just about positive there was one guy who was a dispatcher for the county for about 42 years – he is also the last original employee from the Bureau of Fire.
At some point during the early 1980s, the Bureau was changed to a Civil Service job, thus being renamed to the Communications Division of the Sheriff’s Office. Even though by that point Myers had been doing the job for half-a-dozen years – give or take – he was required to apply for, take and pass the Civil Service test to keep his job.
He also began his career before the 9-1-1 emergency system was in effect and teletypes were the norm, as opposed to the wall of computers he sits in front of now. Calls were recorded on a reel-to-reel audio tape recorder – its tapes had to be changed nightly, a card file system was used, and calls were taken with pen and paper – a habit Myers carries to this day.
“It is not easy keeping up with the technological advances,” said Sheriff Greg Rudolph. “When Jay started there was a microphone and calls were handwritten and documented on cards. Now everything is computerized (phone, radio, computer-aided dispatch). To put it in perspective, he started when 9-1-1 was cutting technology and most phones had stickers on them with local emergency numbers.”
Throughout his career, major technological advances have simplified (meaning less paperwork) his job and streamlined communication between dispatchers and emergency personnel.
Yet, technology wasn’t the only upgrade to the division.
“I started in 1976 in a small 10 (foot) by 10 (foot) workspace. During the winter we’d put plastic on the windows to keep warm. During the summer, the AC would freeze up,” Myers said. “And Arcade had their own dispatcher for fire and police. That was her business right in her home. If an incident warranted, she would then call dispatch.”
“Jay has gone from the tiny little room in the old jail to the nice spacious room that we are in today. He has seen the advent of computers and the major changes in the county radio system,” said Fire and Emergency Management Director Tony Santoro. “When he started there was only one tower location in the county – that was not very reliable – to the eight-tower system that we have today. He went through the implantation of the E9-1-1 system and from not having a CAD (computer-aided dispatch) and map system to having a system that is very automated.”
The only thing that had not changed since Myers started his job was the two dispatchers per shift schedule. During any given shift in the Communications Division, there are two dispatchers on duty. However, if the emergency warrants it, such as the recent weather events, a third dispatcher is brought in.
“Back then, we had to call each and every car to know where they were. The only computers we had at the time were teletypes for getting the information to the patrol cars,” Myers said. “We were also responsible for taking bail money for inmates and were the point of contact for inmate visitors. But the visits were only on Saturdays and Sundays.”
“He’s kept up with the technology,” said Emergency Management Fire Coordinator Bill Streicher. “Taking us older individuals and throwing a computer in front of us…He’s kept up. He’s always maintained a level of professionalism.”
Myers said he didn’t set out for communications as a career choice – he majored in Criminal Justice at Genesee Community College. But, it was an opportunity he says he had taken advantage of at the time and it sounded interesting.
“I was there when Jay first came on board,” said retired dispatcher Betty Fancher. “He’s a nice guy. That’s all there is to it.”
Fancher had been a dispatcher from 1976 until 1999 and has known Myers since he was a little kid.
“I was one of the dispatchers that trained Jay. He’s a very caring person; always wanted to learn.”
Sandy Tiede had worked with Myers for more than 30 years and says they couldn’t get to the call quick enough because he was already on top of it.
“We worked so many holidays together and it was somewhat quiet and it was nice to share a holiday with a friend when you can't be at home,” Tiede said.
While the job has intense moments at times, sometimes a bit of comedic relief is bound to inadvertently happen.
“One night right after briefing…we went in at 10:45 for briefing…we got into the office and Jay started cleaning. He liked to make sure everything was clean,” Tiede said. “While he was cleaning, he accidentally hit all the fire department buttons in the county. Sirens all over the county went off and people kept calling in and he just told them all to disregard. Fortunately, it was late at night instead of 4 a.m.”
“He’s a fireman so he knows what we are going through when we are on a call,” George said. “He knows what you’re going through when you get to a scene and knows what you have to do. He is someone with experience that’s nice to have on the other end.”
In addition to his “day job,” Myers is also the fire chief for the Attica Fire Department, beginning his career when he was 16 years old. However, as is the case now, he says there were special restrictions for the younger firefighters.
For as much as Myers had to learn and adapt to the ever changing technology, he was a teacher as much as he was a student.
“There are certain calls or complaints that are very frustrating and very stressful despite the number of years on the job,” Rudolph said. “But Jay never portrays that to the public. He may show it privately when the call is over, but never to someone seeking assistance….never!”
“Perseverance is the biggest one,” Streicher said. “And to remain as calm as possible through major events. Being clear in what is being said and say it in a precise manner.”
Myers says one of the most challenging aspects of his job is getting a location when people don’t really know where they are.
“It’s most difficult to get accurate information and understanding the caller when they are in a tense situation,” Myers said. “But it’s satisfying getting help to people who need it.”
While he says he’s going to miss some of the people – but generally sees them anyway – he is looking forward to a less complicated day.
But then again…
“I’m not really looking forward to it (retirement) because it’s a big change after doing the same schedule for the past 40 years of my life.”
“Jay will sincerely be missed at the Sheriff’s Office, not only for his reliable dispatching skills but because of the person he is and positive attitude and enjoyment he brings to the Division and Office,” Rudolph said. “We all have made the comment many, many times, ‘I want to go in and see what Jay is up to today.’ To me, there is no greater compliment to the type of person he is.”
Above photo provided by the Sheriff's Office.