Pitkin County did not have basic, three-digit 9-1-1 service until 1980, but the first 9-1-1 call in the United States was placed in Alabama on February 16, 1968. The 50th anniversary of the 9-1-1 emergency telephone system is being recognized on February 16, 2018.
Pitkin County does stand out as the first county in the State of Colorado to implement Text to 9-1-1 in 2014, a system that has proven to work well in mountainous country where a cell phone call might not go through.
It took decades for the 9-1-1 telephone system to be fully implemented nationwide. In 1979, only 26% of the United States had 911 service. By the year 2000, 93% of the U.S. had service. Today, 80% of 9-1-1 calls are made from mobile phones.
“Before 911 was implemented in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley an emergency call to us required dialing seven digits and it was a long-distance call with charges if you called 9-1-1 from Basalt or the Crystal River Valley,” said Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection and Basalt Fire Chief, Scott Thompson.
In 1983, during the third year of 9-1-1 in the Roaring Fork Valley, just over 6,000 calls for service were handled. By 1987 that number grew to nearly 16,000 calls for service, nearly 40,000 in 1997, nearly 60,000 in 2007, and over 72,000 in 2017.
Since the late 1980s, the staffing level at the Emergency Dispatch Center in Aspen has stayed the same with usually no more than two dispatchers working during each shift.
“It’s a very stressful job and turnover can be high,” said Emergency Communications Director, Brett Loeb. “It can also be an exciting and very rewarding career, especially when you are able to save a life or simply help someone in a crisis,” Loeb said.
Over the years, emergency dispatchers in Aspen have walked callers through having babies, initiating CPR and using an Automated External Defibrillator, and offering support to a person who had fallen from a tree. That’s in addition to the many not so urgent calls inquiring about everything from whether raccoons are dangerous and what the current time is, to why traffic is moving so slowly.
Pitkin County Commissioners will recognize the 50th Anniversary of 9-1-1 at their regular meeting on February 14th.
Contact: Brett Loeb - Pitkin County Emergency Communications Director - 970-471-5237