Retiring dispatchers recall good times and bad with East Liverpool police

EAST LIVERPOOL – Changes in public pension plan laws have led to the loss of two veteran dispatchers from the city police department, with Deb Fickes and Danny Deshler both working their last full-time shift on New Year’s Eve.

Fickes had 33 years with the department on Oct. 1, having been hired under then-chief Ken Mooney and serving with chiefs Milt Fowler, Chuck Coen, Mike McVay and, currently, John Lane.

After having worked in a variety of waitress and sales jobs, Fickes put in an application for the dispatching job in July of 1979 and got the call to duty in October.

“I was scared to death. My dad said, ‘You won’t last three days,'” she smiled as she ended her shift Monday afternoon.

Deshler also had worked a variety of jobs before joining the department 22 years ago, including a stint upstairs in the city’s litter department.

After being laid off, he ended up downstairs in the police department and said it’s been a joy to come to work every day.

Except one.

In November of 2011, both Fickes and Deshler experienced the hardest call of their careers.

Deshler was actually supposed to be working the midnight shift on Nov. 26 but Fickes had traded with him. Thus, she was on the desk when the call came in that would change the department forever: Chief Mike McVay was headed to the emergency room, suffering a heart attack that would prove fatal.

“They called me at home. At 1 in the morning it looked like 3 in the afternoon (shift change for the department). Everyone was here,” Deshler recalled, shaking his head in still-fresh grief.

McVay was not only his chief, but a lifelong friend of Deshler, and Fickes had worked alongside him as his right-hand man, so to speak, for his entire 17 years at the helm.

Both sat in the radio room the day of McVay’s funeral, with Fickes giving the last call over the radio for his funeral and Deshler standing by, the two working side-by-side as they often have for more than two decades, saying goodbye to their chief and friend.

As with police officers, the dispatchers each recollected one call of thousands that has stayed in their minds over the years.

For Fickes, she dispatched the late P.A. Burson and Ed Pack to a report by a woman caller saying there was a dead body. They arrived to find she had shot and killed herself, two young children in the yard.

“That was a long time ago, but I never forgot the kids were named Mike and Debbie,” Fickes mused.

For Deshler, he best remembered a call from a woman across the Ohio River who had accidentally shot her husband out in the middle of the woods and no one knew where.

“We had to find her. We had no GPS then. I asked, ‘Where’d you park?’ but she didn’t know. I told her, ‘When they get there, just start screaming,'” Deshler recalled.

He said that and a call in more recent years in which the victim of a fatal car crash was the wife of an ELPD officer remain in his mind.

But both agreed new technology has been the greatest change they’ve seen.

And bar fights.

“We don’t get bar fights like we did in the past,” Deshler noted, with Fickes adding quickly, “But there’s more drug activity.”

For Fickes, she will most miss “the guys,” saying, “I loved them all. Even Flati,” with a smile as Patrolman Fred Flati strolled into the radio room.

The easy camaraderie between the officers and dispatchers will be missed by Deshler, too.

“I’ve enjoyed working with the guys. I enjoyed hearing their stories about their kids,” Deshler said, having watched not only his own two daughters, but many of the officers’ children, grow up during his days on the desk.

Both decided to retire rather than risk losing future increases in their retirement benefits, as is happening around the county with many public employees.

But, it wasn’t an easy decision.

“I have mixed emotions. I’m excited about a new chapter in my life, but I’m sad. What am I going to do? I’ve worked as long as I can remember,” Fickes said.

Saying he has missed two days of work since starting as a dispatcher, Deshler said, “I get up in the morning and am glad to go to work.”

Both hope they may be able to return to the department on a part-time basis, depending upon what the city administration and Chief Lane decide about replacements.