Joe Wilson has always been interested in communications, getting his HAM radio license when he was in the 7th grade and working at a local radio station's morning show.He started as a 911 dispatcher …
Joe Wilson has always been interested in communications, getting his HAM radio license when he was in the 7th grade and working at a local radio station's morning show.
He started as a 911 dispatcher 26 years ago part-time, then full time in 1992, and as appointed as director of the consolidated 911 center three years later.
It has been quite a history with 911, which will make it difficult to leave that field, but he said he feels the time is right to hang up his microphone and headphones.
Actually, the 68-year-old Wilson hasn't been a dispatcher since 1995, when he was appointed the director of the consolidated 911 center. This past Wednesday, he announced his retirement as director.
The life-long Bradley County native, and graduate of Cleveland High School, Cleveland State Community College and Tusculum College, "started part-time, then went full-time, and when the city and county decided to consolidate the two center, they hired me as director," Wilson stated. The county's center was in the basement of the Courthouse Annex, while the city's was at the Cleveland Police Department.
"We had 23 total dispatchers, so we moved them all over here," Wilson said of the 911 center now located adjacent to Cleveland Utilities.
Wilson has been the only director for the 911 center since it went from two facilities to one. He was honored to be selected chosen as director.
"I do miss dispatching at times," he said, remembering the 1993 blizzard as one of the most interesting events while he was working at sending out first responders. "We were working sometimes 18 hour shifts, and sleeping out in the hallways. We weren't consolidated so we had to coordinate with the city on who to send and where."
He said that while this was the most interesting event, the one that affected him most was when three children were killed in a fire.
"Those kind of calls you don't forget, and even though this happened well over 20 years ago, those are things that you take home, though you'd rather not," Wilson said. "It was a dark day here in Bradley County."
Wilson said he has some of the most dedicated employees that anyone could want.
"Take for instance the incident at Wacker. We had dispatchers who voluntarily began, logged in, and began taking calls. They didn't have to be called in. It is hard to describe, but it is that kind of community within that dispatch room," Wilson said.
"It's a brotherhood and a sisterhood and they are all family," he added.
Even though he has been in a job that is very demanding, he has still found time for personal likes.
He enjoys being a flight instructor, and several of his students now fly for airlines and corporate jets. In fact, he is teaching his grandson Hayden to fly.
He is a locomotive engineer at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, running trains in Chattanooga and also on the Hiwassee Railroad in Polk County.
And he and his wife of 43 years, Connie, enjoy "riding their trike everywhere."
Wilson remains involved in amateur radio.
He said he will miss the 911 center, and those men and women he works with now and he remembers in the past.
"This really has been the best job I have ever had, and I could do this job for 10 more years, but it was time," he said.
• Wilson said that while the back up center (BUC) at the Cleveland Police Department held its ribbon cutting this past week, the consolidation of the 911 centers with the county and city will soon celebrate a special anniversary.
He said that on Nov. 13, local dignitaries will celebrate the 20th year of the cutover to a consolidated center.
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