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Never a holiday
911 operator volunteers to work so others can enjoy
Telecommunications officer Judy Smith takes information from an auto accident at the Bulloch County 911 Center in this file photo from Good Friday in 2014. Smith volunteers to work all holidays so workers with children may have the day off.

While many of us are still basking in the afterglow of Christmas and anticipating the New Year’s parties, for Bulloch County 911 operator Judy Smith, holidays are always spent behind a switchboard.

Christmas, Labor Day, Mother’s Day, Easter – Smith volunteers to clock in so her coworkers can spend the holidays with their families.

Her daughter Sheila is “used to it,” she said, and her granddaughter Cierra grew up knowing her grandma would be at the Bulloch County 911 office when Santa and the Easter Bunny arrived.

Yes, she celebrates. “We do things together at night or other times,” she said. 

In order to help keep up the holiday spirits, she decorates the 911 dispatch room and the Emergency Operations Center each season. There are likely still Christmas trees with her touch in the offices right now.

Working the holidays is difficult, but not just because you are away from family, she said. Holidays are emotional, and in some circles, that triggers negativity.

“We get a lot of domestic disputes, people get drunk. People get upset because they didn’t get what they wanted or didn’t like what they got for Christmas.”  Yes, people really dial 911 over things like that, she said.

And holidays often create depression in people. Some don’t take their medications, and all too often callers are suicidal. “Holidays are not good for everybody. They can be really sad,” Smith said.

With parties, travel, shopping and other activity, there is always an increase in EMS calls during holidays, too. For a 911 operator or any other public service worker, holidays are the opposite – while most are relaxing and taking it easy, Smith and others on call are holding down the fort and handling one emergency after another.

Especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas, area businesses and individuals send food and gifts to those working holidays as a reminder of how much they are appreciated.  But for Smith, seeing her coworkers able to spend quality time with their children is what it is all about.

On the holidays, “remember the sick, the ones in the hospitals, those who can’t be home with family,” she said. It’s also a time to think of the radio operators, EMTs, law enforcement officers, medical professionals and others who aren’t planning in ringing in the New Year, just so they can make it safe for others to do so.

Smith has been working for Bulloch County 911 for almost 26 years and was named the Bulloch County 911 Operator of the Year for 2019.

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.

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