For 45 years, Linda Allaire was the voice of calm on the other end of the line.
She was there for callers enduring the worst moments of their lives. She was there for police officers and firefighters, sending them where help was needed. She trained successive generations of colleagues.
As the City of White Oak wrapped up 2023, it also closed the book on a much longer chapter of local history as the longtime emergency dispatcher put her receiver down for the last time.
“The dispatcher is your first person that you’re going to talk to, either by regular phone, by 911 or in-person. That’s where it all starts,” Allaire says. It’s impossible to collect 45 years of experience into a single conversation, but “Just have a lot of patience. You have to be sure and not take this home with you.”
Allaire began her decades-long stint with the City of White’s emergency services in February 1978. She handled daytime dispatch; Gregg County covered the rest of the hours.
Looking around her post in today’s White Oak Police Department, “When we moved down to this office, we went to 24 hours,” she noted, bringing in new dispatchers to cover those other shifts. “I hired them and trained them.”
Then and now, multitasking is an essential skill.
“We’re a one-person office, so we answer the phone, we give out the calls over the radio, we answer 911, we transfer calls to other agencies. When you have a major event going on, you’re having to do all that at once,” Allaire said. “You have to be patient. You can’t get overly-excited,” especially since the people on the other end of the line are, in almost all cases, in crisis.
“You have to calm them down, so you can’t get excited.”
The City of White Oak celebrated Allaire’s long service during the city council’s regular monthly meeting Dec. 12. Her last working day was Dec. 28, capped by a reception in her honor at the city’s new community building on South White Oak Road.
Suffice it to say, the technology tied to the job has evolved a lot in the past 45 years.
“It’s unreal,” Allaire said. “When I started, I dispatched on a handheld radio,” and used a Plectron UHF/VHF single-channel unit to set off the siren behind the fire station. “Of course, we had typewriters here. We didn’t have computers here until… I’m thinking maybe the ’80s.
Allaire’s tenure fell under four police chiefs – Robert Shelton, Peyton Haas, Charlie Smith and, today, Terry Roach – and she speaks fondly of each.
All of them, and everyone who served with them, saw their fair share of happenings during Allaire’s stretch.
“I can’t really give any details on the calls, of course, because it’s private,” she added. That said, one event blends into another overtime. “I can’t even begin to tell you all of them. We’ve had several different major events happen.
It runs the gamut: “We’ve had explosions. We’ve had murders. We’ve had suicides. A lot goes on in a small town that people just don’t really realize.”
Allaire’s still wrapping her head around the idea of ‘retirement.’
“It’s gonna be different,” she said, simply. “I’m used to getting up early in the morning and coming to work and having a set routine.
“Of course I’m going to miss all these people over here. We have a good crew right now, a good chief. I’m not going to be able to visit with them every day.”
She is, however, looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Pat, a retired patrol officer who finished his career as chief deputy in Gregg County before heading into the oilfield.
“He was hired first as an officer in ’78,” Allaire said, and that helped bring her on board soon after: “The chief needed someone to set up the records. He hired me then to set up the records as far as files and all.”
That soon led to the dispatch chair.
“We were in a one-room that used to be where the fire station is. That’s where City Hall was. The police department had one room then they had a council room then the tax office. The water department and all was in another room.”
The operation moved to the current campus as the ’70s gave way to the ’80s. The move launched the 24-hour schedule and, not long after, dispatch gained access to state and national computer networks.
“We added the jail and all when we went 24 hours,” Allaire said. She’s on a starkly different schedule as 2024 gets rolling: “I’m looking forward to retiring, doing more trips, staying at home with my husband, just having a relaxing time.”
She and Pat live out in the country, and there’ll be plenty to keep them busy.
“We enjoy just reading books and just being together,” but there’s also some catching up to do, tasks to tackle. “I’ve had a lot of stuff that I’ve put off, saying I’m going to do it when I retire. I guess I’ll have to do a lot of work when I retire. I’ve got some trips planned.”
Needless to say, the City of White Oak will feel Allaire’s absence while forging ahead.
By the time White Oak VFD Chief Bill McBride started with the department four decades back, Allaire already had five years under her belt in dispatch. He embraced the chance Dec. 12 to present Allaire with an appreciation award for her years of service.
“We appreciate you,” McBride said. “We’re going to miss you.”
Thank you, Allaire replied.
“Now I gotta go to work,” she said, turning toward City Hall’s side door and the walk back to dispatch. “Thank y’all very much.”