Early in her career as a dispatcher for the Eau Claire Communications Center, shortly after she had finished her training, Julie Smith received a call from a hysterical mother saying her toddler had fallen into a firepit and burned his hands and knees on hot coals.
At that time in the 1990s, Smith said there was little pre-arrival care dispatchers were trained to offer callers. So she did her job and told the woman an ambulance was on the way. Even now she said this particular call still sticks with her.
“Kid calls are the ones that get you,” Smith said of the stressful emergency calls she’s had to field over the years.
After more than 39 years working for the city, the 60-year-old Eau Claire woman enjoyed her last day of work Friday before retirement.
In 1979, Smith started working at the City Hall in the utilities division. Less than a year later, she began working as a law enforcement assistant for the Eau Claire Police Department. She stayed in this position until she realized she was tired of her 8-to-5 desk job and even more tired of returning to the office every Monday morning to find her desk piled high with paperwork that required her attention.
Smith thought to herself, “I’m ready for something different,” and applied and tested to be a dispatcher at the Eau Claire Communications Center.
Almost three decades later, the job and procedures have undergone major changes. For example, Smith said when she first started, every call’s details were documented by hand on cardboard “case cards.” Now, everything is done electronically, which has made most aspects of the job easier. If a computer goes down, however, dispatchers are back to figuring everything out without the help of technology.
In order to handle the job’s inevitable stress, Smith said she did her best to keep her work and personal lives separate. Once she left the office, she would tell herself not to think about her day and focused instead on doing positive things for herself. One of her go-to stress-relievers was taking her dog on long walks.
The most rewarding part of her job, Smith said, was being able to help people. For her, it was important to be kind to everyone and to offer assistance in a positive, courteous manner.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to get up and go to work,” she said, “but I think, ‘If I can make a difference in one person’s life today, I have achieved a worthwhile goal.’”
From redirecting callers to the correct resources to walking people through CPR over the phone, Smith said she made sure to treat every person she helps as an individual.
This was one of Smith’s greatest assets, said Dena Clark, manager of the Eau Claire Communications Center, and Smith’s supervisor for the past year.
“She’s a very caring individual with a big heart, and that always shined through in her work,” Clark said.
Clark also mentioned observing Smith’s strong leadership skills, calm demeanor and positive attitude as strengths over the 12 years the two worked together.
In her newfound free time, Smith said she plans to catch up on household duties and hang out with friends, family and her dog; she’ll now be available for the holidays and weekends she had long sacrificed to her career. After her years of service, Clark said Smith is more than deserving of retirement.
“It’s amazing to see that kind of longevity in this career,” Clark said. “You can’t even measure how many people she’s touched in our community.”