The average cost of a new house was $32,500, gas was 40 cents a gallon, and the Watergate scandal dominated the national news. Construction on the Sear's Tower in Chicago, at the time the world's tallest building, was also nearing completion. The year was 1973 – and while all of these events were playing out on a national stage, Sandra (or as she likes to be known) 'Sandy' Swartz was embarking on the career of a lifetime.
Sandy's life-long venture in public safety communications started with the St. Petersburg Police Department's Emergency Communications Division (ECD) on January 22, 1973. Like most in this profession, she began her career as a call taker, and then after learning the ropes moved up to dispatcher, and was subsequently promoted to a supervisory role.
After a long and illustrious career, Sandy retired on November 3, 2006. But it wasn't long after retiring that 'her calling' called her again. Sandy returned to work part time at the St. Petersburg Police Department, and when a position opened up for a full time Emergency Complaint Writer (911 call taker) Sandy leaped at the opportunity again.
In addition to her role 'behind the headset,' Sandy also took on the added responsibility of Communications Training Officer (CTO). In this capacity, she conducts on-the-job training for newly hired Complaint Writers and completes Daily Observation Reports to document each day of training.
According to St. Petersburg PD Emergency Communications Center Supervisor Brandie Ball, who nominated Sandy for the award, "Sandy is nurturing and encouraging to her trainees. While CTOs are typically quick to point out errors or areas for improvement, Sandy is eager to praise trainees when they handle events properly or show significant improvement in an area where they'd previously struggled," said Ball. "Her Daily Observation Reports consistently reflect this balance of encouragement and correction."
"When releasing a trainee to work in a solo capacity, she literally gives them their 'wings' in the form of a little charm," Ball added.
When working with her trainees, Sandy not only teaches them what to do and how to do it, she makes sure to explain
why they need to do it – along with the many other subtleties of being a successful telecommunicator that she has learned over the years.
When assigned a struggling employee who others may have already 'written off,' Sandy approaches that individual with the same positive attitude and optimism she would if that person were one of the top performers. While honest in her feedback of their performance, Ball says that "Sandy never make the person feel incompetent or belittled."
"Sandy is a role model for all employees of the Emergency Communications Division," added Ball. "Her professionalism and thoughtfulness make her the type of employee you'd want to clone. It's probably inevitable that Sandy will retire again, but it certainly would be great to have her as a valued member of the department for another 45 years!"
For all for these reasons Sandy was recently named a co-recipient of the
2018 PSAPs' Finest Trainer of the Year Award. (Coincidently, she also was recognized as the 2018 Trainer of the Year by Florida APCO and Florida NENA.
Recently I had an opportunity to talk to Sandy about how she got into public safety communications, what she loves most about her work and what being recognized as PSAPs' Finest Trainer of the Year has meant to her.
What attracted you to a career in public safety communications?
Sandy: I watched a lot of TV shows involving police and always thought the job would be so intriguing. I've always had the desire to help people and thought this would be a great way. Also, if it weren't for this job, I would not have met my late husband.
What is your most memorable career experience?
Sandy: I would have to say working fire channel the day the Skyway Bridge collapsed. Back then our department dispatched fire and police. After receiving the first call the Fire Chief responded to make sure it wasn't a prank. Needless to say, it was not a prank call and it turned out to be a very sad and chaotic day.
What do you most love about what you do?
Sandy: The idea of helping people and knowing in some cases I have made a difference. Working as a call taker you are usually a person's first contact after they have experienced something good or bad. Those calls can range from someone finding a bike to a person being shot and killed. I also love training new employees. At times it can be very challenging and stressful but at the end of the training I can look back and see it was worth it.
What advice would you have for others thinking about a similar career path?
Sandy: Talk it over with your family and make sure they are OK with the sacrifices that you will have to make in order to do this job. One example is not being there for birthdays, holidays and special events. This type of work is very challenging but on the other hand it is also very rewarding.
What does it mean to be recognized with a PSAP's Finest Award?
Sandy: Receiving this award means more to me than words can tell. I am truly honored and never imagined that I would be chosen. I owe everything to the great leaders who I have worked for during the last 45 years. They have molded me into the employee I am today.
PSAPs' Finest Awards
Know someone you'd like to nominate for a PSAPs' Finest award? Nominations for the 2019 PSAPs' Finest Awards will open in January 2019. Individuals interested in submitting a nomination can nominate someone in any of these seven categories: Director, Line Supervisor, Technician, Trainer,
Telecommunicator, Innovator, and PSAP of the Year.
Since its inaugural year, the PSAPs' Finest Awards program has recognized more than fifty deserving individuals employed in the field of emergency communications. Winners are selected by an independent judging panel from the 9-1-1 community, which evaluates the nominees based on their professionalism, accomplishments, and service to their communities. Learn more by visiting the PSAPs' Finest Award program website here: http://finest.nice-files.com/.