A voice in the night, 24 hours a day in Skaneateles

Ellen Leahy, Editor/City Eagle 11/21/06More articles

Several years ago at a ‘state of the county’ informational session in the Eagle Newspapers’ newsroom, County Executive Nick Pirro commented that the Skaneateles people thought they were something special. Of course, I hear this all the time in Syracuse. But what he was referring to was the fact that Skaneateles had its own informational dispatch service, while the rest of the county used the new 911 service exclusively. It hadn’t occurred to me to question the need of the Skaneateles dispatch, even in regards to the county’s 911.

The reasons my family has always called the dispatch, I believe, would not be allowed or encouraged at the 911 center. What I mean is, we call when we want help from the village police when we get locked out of our house because someone from out of town would lock it and we never even had a key. We’ve called to see if the lake roads were passable after a snowfall. We’ve called when there was a strange dog hanging around that might need help. We’ve called or even stopped by the dispatch center in times of weather emergencies. I stopped by to put out an all points bulletin the time my dad misplaced my mom up at the Circus the Lions Club sponsored at Austin Park.

“We have a woman in her 80s in a silver Nissan, license plate ‘Mister Chips,’ last seen leaving the circus,” the dispatcher said into his microphone after my lengthy explanation.

The dispatch also coordinates many services, such as F.I.S.H., Laker Limo and the departments of public works to name a few.

When it comes to emergency service, I am told ‘time’ is the most important factor. Remember when the building burned to the ground on Jordan Street between Riddlers and Doug’s Fish Fry? The worker who accidentally lit the building on fire called his boss rather than the dispatch or Onondaga’s 911. His boss had a cell phone from another county, so when he called that 911 the call had to be transferred to Onondaga’s 911. I was told that the precious time this took was what really fueled that fire. The firefighters responded in the appropriate amount of time once they were finally notified, but by then, it was really too late.

Skaneateles’ dispatch is something very rare today. It’s a caring, human voice to speak with in a world of confusing, electronic-driven, hurried-up communication. It is a voice that always has the answers or the ability to get help, even coordinated help, at its fingertips. The voice sometimes even calls back with more help.

I guess the best way to term the dispatch is to call it a “service,” which in today’s world is rare indeed.

Is this what Nick Pirro meant? Skaneateles thinks it needs better service than 911?

What I think is that with the information highway, we have this feeling that Skaneateles is no longer a rural community in the southwestern most corner of the county. But consider that over the last 50 years while everything has been speeding up, speed limits on the roads haven’t and we are still using motorized vehicles for transportation.

I know the dispatch service is a line item on our village and town budgets, but it is one I am thankful for. As taxes are skyrocketing, do we really want less service?

On this Thanksgiving 2006, thank you to all who have populated our dispatch center over the years. You really make a difference.

Ellen Leahy is the editor of the Skaneateles Press and the Marcellus Observer.

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