For Mike Paget, the last nearly 29 years have been anything but dull.
“In a normal office environment, you go to work knowing what you’ve got to do on any given day,” he said.
It has been just the opposite throughout Paget’s career.
Paget, 61, is retiring from the Tooele County Dispatch Center, taking his booming voice off the airwaves in order to spend more time with his wife, Margie, and family, dust off some old hobbies and return to a slower pace of life that rarely features life-or-death scenarios.
When he officially retires at the end of this month, he will be the first dispatcher to have earned full retirement benefits from the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office.
When he first hired on with the Sheriff’s Office in 1985, the five-year Air Force veteran was on-call for both dispatch and the Tooele County Detention Center, but went to dispatch full-time nine months later.
“I don’t think people realize how complex it can be and how busy it can be,” he said. “One call can make everybody busy.”
Whenever a situation is called in, dispatchers are in charge of sending out the right agencies for the job— beyond police, fire and medical personnel, the list is nearly 40 agencies long and includes local, state and federal agencies, public works departments and Adult Probation and Parole.
Dispatchers also try to get as much information for the responders and anticipate what agencies or services might be needed, such as paging medical helicopters from Salt Lake. Mandatory annual training and certification ensures dispatchers are ready to act properly for medical and fire calls.
“We send out the first responders,” said Paget. “The first first responder is dispatch.”
Some days, many little incidents, like during a big storm, will keep dispatchers busy, while others may be consumed by a larger, more complicated call. Still, others are relatively quiet. Some incidents dispatchers might hear information about later, Paget said, but often the rest of the story about incidents they handle isn’t known.
“Most times we don’t hear the outcome of a call,” he said.
The job is inherently stressful. If a dispatcher gets sick, Paget said, there is no simply staying home; someone else must be called in to take his or her place, and the center is often understaffed. Paget, who lives in Tooele, commuted for more than half of his career from Magna, and the drive helped to shed the remains of the day.
“Usually the drive helped,” he said. “It was nice in summer and when it was warm, to roll the window down and crank up the stereo.”
Just shy of 29 years on the job, Paget has seen a lot of things change, chiefly in the realm of technology.
He said one of the biggest frustrations for dispatchers are the accidental dialings of 911 by cell phones in pockets and the calls placed by children playing with their parents’ old phones, which are federally mandated to still be able to call for help.
But cell phones have also been a boon for dispatchers and emergency responders, allowing faster and more accurate information about the emergency to flow between caller and dispatcher no matter where something happens.
“People can give us information from the scene instead of having to go and find a pay phone,” he said.
Another technological shift he’s seen in the last three decades is with GPS, which helps better pinpoint where a caller is—especially useful if the caller doesn’t know themselves.
Despite the thousands of car crashes and crimes and other emergencies he has helped with throughout his career, Paget said his overall impression of people is positive.
“We get a lot of people who can help us be another pair of eyes and let us give the information to the officers before they get to the scene so they’re more prepared,” he said. “People are out there to help each other.”
And ultimately, it will be the people he works with that he will miss most about the job, he said.
“Dispatch kind of becomes a bit of a family,” he said. “The people I work with, the officers—that’s what I’m really going to miss.”
Paget’s supervisors say the feeling is mutual.
Lt. Regina Nelson of the Tooele County Dispatch Center, said she has worked with Paget for 25 years, and only narrowly was chosen for the promotion to lieutenant instead of him 10 years ago. The loss of his expertise will be acutely felt, she said.
“I’m where I am in my career because of Mike. Mike mentored me,” she said. “He’s been a great asset to Tooele County. He’s a great leader, he’s kind, he’s fair.”
She added, “There’s loss when we lose an officer, but I also feel a loss having Mike retire.”
Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park said Paget’s skills and dedication have been a huge boon to the department, and his accomplishment in earning full benefits is even more notable because of the incredible stress level of the job.
“Dispatching is the most frustrating, toughest job there is in law enforcement, simply because everything comes through them,” he said. “The nature of the job they hold, they’re the lifeline of ever officer, fireman and EMT in the county, and to every citizen. Mike’s been a big part of us transcending the things that have happened to law enforcement in Tooele County over the years. We’ve really benefited from his career and he’ll be missed.”