This woman has been a B.C. 911 call taker, dispatcher for 45 years

45 years as 911 dispatcher

A B.C. woman is celebrating a longstanding career working as a 911 call taker and dispatcher.

Karen Hay has dedicated more than 45 years to emergency communications, picking up the call for help and serving the people of Vancouver and beyond.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” she says.

But this is not the end for her — she’s still working.

“I feel sharper because I am working, to be honest,” she says. “Maybe I’ll try to put [in] 50 years and then go out with a big bang.”

Not only has she been a dispatcher and call taker, but she helped shape 911 into what it is today.

Back in 1977, she picked up the phone to survey people living in Vancouver for the Vancouver Police Department to ask if they’d like a new three digital emergency number.

"I think I worked on that for about three weeks and then that's where 911 all began,” she tells Glacier Media.

In the old building, she would answer the phone and hand-write physical cards to be sent up a conveyor belt to dispatchers.

Looking back on her career, she’s had almost every call one could imagine. She worked as a trainer, in coaching and development, and in 1996 was asked if she wanted to work for E-Comm.

“I’ve had everything from suicide attempts, where you have to keep them on the line until the police get there, to police car chases where I’ve been a dispatcher,” she says. “I’ve been involved in everything. It's a hard job, you know, but not everybody can do this job,” says Hay.

Hay also helped create Prime, an internal police record information management system.

"I've been doing what I've always enjoyed doing it. You come into work every day and you don't know what you're going to be dealing with,” says Hay.

Darcy Wilson, executive director of dispatch operations at E-Comm, described Hay as a pioneer and trailblazer.

"I think her dedication to the people that she served and helped in their worst moments for them and their families, that she was there for them,” he says of Hay's legacy. “And she wears her heart on her sleeve."

Wilson has worked with Hay for 20 years and says the job is a difficult one that not many people last two decades in, let alone four.

"Karen has stayed at the frontlines of this throughout her career, and she just flourished,” he says. "I think she’s touched people that’ll never know, they've been touched by her.”

Currently, Hay continues to work at E-Comm supporting teams across the entire organization.

To her fellow call takers and dispatchers, Hay hopes they’ll continue to be empathetic.

“Come in with a good heart... because you have no idea what that person's life is [like] on the end of that line,” she says, adding dispatchers are human beings too, doing their best.

“To know that you’ve helped that person and hopefully they got the help they needed, that’s monumental.”

More BC News