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Mundus Closes Out Career As Communications Operator

By Staff | Dec 30, 2008

THE VOICE ON THE OTHER END - Sharon Mundus wrapped up 32 years of service to the residents of Palo Alto County on Sunday as an operator at the Palo Alto County Communications Center. Mundus began her career as a dispatcher working for the City of Emmetsburg in 1977 and became a county employee in 1980. -- Dan Voigt photo

It’s been said that as a public safety dispatcher, the job can be almost eight hours of sheer boredom and two minutes of absolute havoc.

Sharon Mundus won’t argue that observation.

After 32 years behind the communications console, Mundus signed off the air Sunday afternoon at the Palo Alto County Communications Center.

In those 32 years, Sharon has dealt with humanity at its best and worst, in good times and bad, but through it all, has kept one goal at the forefront over all those hours – helping those who have called for law enforcement, fire and medical assistance.

“It’s been educational, that’s for sure,” Mundus said with a laugh on her final weekend of duty at the Communications Center, located at the Palo Alto County Jail. “Over the years, this job has been enlightening, entertaining and challenging, but I’ve enjoyed it all.”

But what is the job? What is it that the communications center operator, or dispatcher, really does?

Ask any peace officer, and they’ll tell you that their radio and the dispatcher on the other end of that radio are one of the most important tools at their disposal.

The dispatcher serves as the first link in the pubic safety chain. When you pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1, the voice on the other end that calmly takes your call and sends help to you is that dispatcher. The dispatcher then relays the information to the appropriate agency, many times, juggling ringing phones, multiple radio calls and keeping track of who was sent where.

To do that job, and do it well, takes a special kind of person and a lot of training – plus a lot of patience and common sense.

“This job was a whole lot easier back when I started in 1977,” Mundus noted. “Back then, we had two phone lines for the police department, one for the sheriff’s office, the REC, Red Cross and Emmetsburg Fire Department. Today, we have all the police, all the sheriff, all the ambulances, all the fire departments and emergency management, plus all of the logging and computer work that has increased, along with the 9-1-1 system.”

In 1977, Mundus began dispatching at the Emmetsburg Police Department, but it really wasn’t her first career choice at the time.

“I originally applied to be a meter maid,” Mundus laughed, “but I was offered a dispatcher’s job instead, and now here I am.”

At that time, dispatch service was located in the police department offices on Grand Avenue adjacent to the Fire Department. There, Mundus served as a secretary for the Police Department, typing reports and filing in addition to working as a dispatch operator.

“I trained for two weeks with the other operators, especially Pete Gronbeck,” Sharon recalled. “Then, I went on the schedule on my own. The first day I worked alone, the old Cargil Elevator burned to the ground and I was terrified. Then, a couple days later, there was a drowning. My first week was very memorable.”

In 1980, the communications center was moved to new quarters in the county jail, and came under control of Palo Alto County.

“We became jailers in 1980, and began handling even more radio traffic,” Mundus noted. “We modernized our teletype from the old paper punch to the computerized system to get license and registration checks, too.”

Since then, technology brought about the advent of 9-1-1 service in Palo Alto County, emergency locating systems for law enforcement vehicles and more and more traffic as well.

The communications center can talk directly with the county’s Secondary Road Department plows, Iowa State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies, as well as communicate world-wide through the National Law Enforcement Telecomunications System computer network.

But, along the way, the job has had some other memorable moments.

“I helped an officer propose over the air once,” Mundus laughed. “He had stopped his fiance and her parents, and called in her license for a check, and after I gave it back to him, he said her name would be changing to his, and then got down on one knee to pop the question. Next thing I know, I get a call from someone wondering if this gal was beating up on the officer because he was on his knees in front of the patrol car!”

Over her tenure, Mundus has worked for numerous police officers and deputies, as well as four sheriff’s: Joe Girres, Ab Neary, Russ Jergens and Denny Goeders, as well as six police chiefs: Tom Ervin, Steve Spitzer, Bill Sullivan, Dan Briggs, Don Ellis and Eric Hanson.

“I’ve worked with lots of officers over the years and they’ve all been great,” Mundus noted. “Working with the firefighters, ambulance personnel, civil defense folks, state patrol troopers, everyone has been very professional.”

So on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 28, Mundus went 10-42 (end of duty) for the final time.

“I’m moving on to a new chapter in my life,” Mundus said. “It’s time to do something else. I can honestly say that I can’t imagine any other career that I could have chosen that would have been better for me. I’ve met good people at all levels and I’ll miss them all.”