‘Voice’ goes silent

Published 1:09 pm Monday, March 7, 2016

Recently retired Gates County 9-1-1 Dispatcher Dianne Harrell is shown with her husband, Norman (left), and Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb. | Photo by Bobby Eure

Recently retired Gates County 9-1-1 Dispatcher Dianne Harrell is shown with her husband, Norman (left), and Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb. | Photo by Bobby Eure

GATESVILLE – In the event of an emergency, it’s always good to have a calm, collective individual with the knowledge to quickly guide first responders to the scene.

For 20 years, Dianne Harrell was that “voice” and her long and dedicated service to Gates County and beyond was recently celebrated at an event honoring her retirement as a Gates County 9-1-1 Dispatcher.

While Gates County citizens were the benefactors of her expertise, so were law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel racing to the scene that Harrell was calmly guiding those responders.

“She did a great job for us,” said Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb. “She knew the county like the back of her hand. She knows places like Pittmantown, Blood Alley, and Scratch Hall. But perhaps her biggest attribute, other than always being so calm, was that she knew people by their voice, you didn’t have to tell her who you were when you called.”

While she had a job to do and did so very professionally, there was a compassionate side to Harrell as well.

“Her heart would break when she had to dispatch a call to the scene of a bad accident, especially if there was a child involved,” Webb said. “She would handle it like a professional in the heat of the moment, but when it was all over I have come back to the office and stuck my head in the dispatch room and I would see her crying. She wore her emotions on her sleeve.”

That professionalism and compassion was not lost on her department head.

“She was a faithful steward of Gates County communications and a valued member of our emergency management community for many years. Her service to the citizens of Gates County as well those of us who work every day as emergency responders will be greatly missed,” said Gates County Emergency Management Director Billy Winn.

Fifteen years ago, Harrell was handling Gates County 9-1-1 Dispatch calls from across the Chowan River in Winton. That was an era when Gates County did not have its own dispatch center, rather using the radios in the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office to direct emergency responders.

“Dianne was with the first group of dispatchers when we moved our 9-1-1 communications from Winton to Gatesville. She’s been with us from day one when we went out on our own with 9-1-1 Dispatch,” Winn stated.

Winn said prior to being employed as a 9-1-1 dispatcher in Gates County, Harrell worked as a security officer at (Vidant) Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in Ahoskie and as a bus driver for Gates County Public Schools. She has also served Gates County on the receiving end of 9-1-1 calls as a 20-year EMT with Gates County Rescue and EMS.

She also worked as a 9-1-1 Dispatch Operator for Hertford County.

Webb said he was known Dianne and her family his entire life.

“They lived two doors down from where I grew up here in Gates County,” Webb said. “Her whole family are hard-working people. I spent my first years here as an EMT working alongside Dianne. And her husband, Norman, was active as a volunteer as well as a member of the fire department.”

Webb said he believes Harrell developed a knack for being able to handle tough situations from her days as a school bus driver as well as the time she spent as a security officer at Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.

“She knew how to read people and how to quickly diffuse a tough situation,” he noted. “She had a way to talk to people, even in bad situations, and make them feel at ease.”

The Sheriff added that Harrell’s work ethic and her knack for helping others has rubbed off on her children.

“Her son works for Crossroads Oil Company and will give you the shirt off his back if someone needed it. And her daughter has worked her way from the ground up in law enforcement; she’s now the second in charge at the ECU Police Department in Greenville. Dianne and Norman raised those kids the right way…how to follow God’s will,” Webb remarked.

While he will miss his longtime friend behind the desk at the 9-1-1 Dispatch Center in Gatesville, Webb said he and his deputies hope she will continue a long-standing tradition at the Sheriff’s Office.

“Dianne is a great cook; every Christmas she would bake up a big batch of cookies and a few cakes and those items were our gifts from her,” Webb said. “But the real gift was her friendship.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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