Colleen Conrad

Story Vault

By Colleen Conrad

chair |CHe(ə)r| • noun

1.A piece of furniture consisting of a seat, legs, back, and often arms designed to accommodate one person.

Chairs!! They are the bane of dispatch centers. They are a subject at dispatch conferences and dispatch forums. I stay out of discussions about them—chairs are not one of those one-style things that can make everyone happy.

Dispatch chairs must be able to accommodate a variety of people: short, tall, skinny, stout, happy, and grumpy. Dispatch chairs must accommodate a person 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, 52 weeks a year, and for many years to come.

When multiple types are available, most dispatchers have a type of chair considered their favorite. In the dispatch office where I work, there are approximately five different types of chairs. At shift change, dispatchers wander around the floor before they relieve the next shift, hunting for their favorite type of chair. It’s like the story of the three bears, multiplied by the number going on shift. This one wants the chair that is black and soft. That one wants the mesh back chair that has a thinner seat. This one wants the harder seat gray chair. The chair I occupy in my office is a beautiful microfiber, soft reclining chair that a dispatcher purchased out of her own pocket and, before she retired, bequeathed it to me.

A variant of the game musical chairs is played every four hours during the rotation of dispatchers and calltakers from one side of the office to the other. At that four-hour mark, dispatchers and calltakers load up personal belongings onto their favorite chair and move it through the doorway separating the two sides and over the metal door divider. The rollover creates a ripping sound—a metal on metal sound. It’s an odd symphony that you can set your clock by. Oh my goodness, is it 11 a.m. already? Ah, it must be shift change; the chair song is playing.

My office is at the front of the calltaking side of the dispatch floor. Each morning when I arrive at work two to four castaway chairs are left at my door. Rather, these no longer needed or wanted and abandoned chairs are corralled in front of the door, creating an obstacle course blocking me from my work.

Back before the terms hostile work environment, sexual harassment, workplace harassment, and political correctness became everyday terms and things to be avoided at all costs, pranksters had full reign of public safety offices. It was not uncommon for a female officer to find her patrol car painted pink. Workplace trysts could result in some strange repercussions once the love turned sour. So, in comparison, a little entertainment involving dispatch chairs was innocent fun.

Years ago we had a dispatcher who was very chair territorial. Her chair was a hideous lime green color, but no matter, it was “her” chair and she would show up early to stake her chair claim and, if need be, stand behind a dispatcher sitting in her lime green chair until shift change. She would go so far as to offer that person a different chair so she could take early possession and slide it under her favorite console. Her chair devotion made her a bit of a target for the other dispatchers. It became a game to hide her chair. In the most extreme “hide the lime green chair” prank, a few dispatchers disassembled the chair and hid the pieces five floors down in the building’s basement—inside the women’s shower. I’m not sure how she found it but she did. She carried the pieces upstairs and put the chair back together. Years later, the favorite pink chair of many a dispatcher was given the name of the green chair-loving dispatcher long after she had retired.

We also had a supervisor who would have none of the trading places business. Finding her favorite chair “missing,” she went out to the floor from her office and made the rump currently occupying the chair cease and get up. “It doesn’t have your name on it,” a dispatcher said. The supervisor returned to her office, grabbed a bottle of whiteout, and painted her name on the chair in big, beautiful white letters. Well, now it did.

Chairs will probably long rule the dispatch office. Not just the one where I work, but at the majority of centers. I don’t think anybody will ever find one that’s just right—for keeps.