By Ryan Dedmon, MA 911 Training Institute
On October 26, 2021, the Atlantic Chapter of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (Atlantic APCO) paid special tribute to honor and remember Longtime Members who have passed away in the last two years at its annual conference.
Atlantic APCO is one of the oldest chapters of APCO International. It comprises eight states in the Northeastern United States: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. It is also one of the largest chapters with approximately 3,200 members.
This year, Atlantic APCO hosted its annual conference at the Stoweflake Mountain Spa and Resort, located in Stowe, Vermont. The resort is in a shallow valley surrounded by large, rolling hills on all sides in the near distance. Those rolling hills covered with trees, displaying their vibrant Fall colors, looked like an artist’s masterpiece. Although cold and rainy during much of the conference, the atmosphere was warm and cozy as members gathered together, many of whom had not seen one another in two years.
The last time the organization hosted an in-person event for its members was their conference in the Fall of 2019. Last year’s 2020 conference was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Atlantic APCO leaders decided earlier this Spring to move forward with planning this year’s event, while keeping the health and safety of attendees as top priority. The organization hosted a special awards dinner on the night before the last day of the conference to recognize outstanding achievements by its members. Attendees filed into a ballroom where large round tables were set for dining.
As people entered the back of the room, they passed a very special table. This table was unlike all the others. There was a single place setting and next to it on one side was a law enforcement hat and on the other side a fire rescue hat. Between those first-responder hats was a black computer keyboard. There was a yellow ribbon around a vase that held a red rose. A black dispatcher’s headset leaned against a tall candle that stood at the center of the table, its flame flickering light on the pictures of three Longtime Members of Atlantic APCO that stood on easels around the table. Mr. Bradford Smith, Mr. Richard Boettcher, and Mr. Blake Haskell all passed on in the last two years and Atlantic APCO honored their lives of dedicated service with a moment of silence.
"The table you saw as you entered the dining hall this evening is to honor those who are no longer with us. The keyboard and headset represent the tools of our profession, the hats for those we serve. The tablecloth is white to show the purity of motives when answering the call. The single red rose reminds us of the life lost. The yellow ribbon symbolizes our concern for their friends and loved ones. The candle represents the light of hope. The inverted glass and plate – to symbolize their inability to attend this evening’s gathering. The empty chair – to remind us of our missing comrades. Please take a moment to remember those who are no longer here."
Those moving words were read by Cecily McNair, a Founding Member of the New Hampshire Emergency Dispatchers Association (NHEDA) and Longtime APCO Member. According to McNair, NHEDA has been doing a similar tribute at its annual events for members in its state who have passed.
McNair adapted the words above from the “Missing Man Table”, a ceremonial observance with military roots intended to honor fallen members of the United States Armed Forces. Law enforcement and fire services hold similar observances for fallen peace officers and firefighters. It seems appropriate the same should be done for 9-1-1 professionals, especially now that several states have created legislation that re-classifies public-safety emergency call-takers and dispatchers as “first-responders”.
At a time when the world is starting to understand the critical role of 9-1-1 professionals, we must never forget those who came before us who paved the way. Atlantic APCO did just that by honoring three of its Longtime Members who had extraordinary lives of service. Although those members have passed on, their legacies live on as new leaders emerge in Atlantic APCO to carry on the work and continue paving the path for the next generation of 9-1-1 professionals.