My friend Joey was the 11-7 dispatcher for police fire, and ambulance in a small municipality. These were the days of police call boxes, a real Ruth Buzzi switchboard, and fire alarm boxes reporting on paper tape. Logs and records were all paper as well, and the only computer in the room connected to the state for checking wants, warrants, and driver’s license information. The call volume was such that a single dispatcher per shift was sufficient, so they worked alone. Joey was, at that time, also a chain smoker, a lit cigarette his constant companion.
We talked periodically on the phone—the non-recorded public line, a good thing considering some of the conversations. Occasionally he would have to drop off the line if a fire or significant incident came in. Routine calls, license checks for the cops, and the like he could handle and continue his conversation with me; multi-tasking long before the term was born.
One night was a little different. The subject we were discussing is long forgotten. What happened next is not. Joey’s normally calm voice exploded on the phone.
“Oh my god, I’ve gotta go,” he yelled.
“What’s the matter? What’s coming in?” I anticipated a huge fire or other major incident, not his actual answer.
“I just set all my fucking papers on fire; I’ve gotta go,” and the phone went dead.
It was probably a good thing as my pronounced laughter would not have been well received at the moment. Just another reason smoking can be hazardous to….your health.