There ‘s a small little town in Northern Alabama, with about 6,000 people in the community, and according to the Haleyville Fire Department website, a meer 2 fire calls so far this year at the time of this writing.
So why is this town so important? Well in addition to sharing a name with my favorite daughter, this sleepy little town deep in the land of good BBQ, happens to be the birthplace of the 911 network in the US, and home of the first 911 call in the country ever made.That was 43 years ago, on February 16th, 1968.
In recognition of that historic event, permission has graciously been provided by Roger D. Wilson of Walker County 9-1-1 and current President of the Alabama Chapter of NENA located at http://www.al911org to reprint the history of 911 here as well as in my weekly E911 Talk Podcast. This story, is a followup of the blog Guy Clinch wrote last week on February 11, detailing the history of 112, the emergency number commonly in use in Europe. You can read that blog here.
Before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, (June 2, 1875) public safety was served by town criers. A town crier would walk the streets of a town and cry out for help in emergency situations. In the 1950’s, independent telephone companies were very common in the United States. If you wanted the police, you dialed the police station. If you had a fire, you called the fire department. If you needed any emergency help, you dialed the individual you needed, or you could dial ” 0″ and get the operator. Then he or she would ring the persons you were calling for.
In 1958, Congress called for an universal emergency number. At this time, the President’s Commission of Law Enforcement and the F.C.C. started arguing over a single easy to remember number. This was due to the large volume of emergency calls going to telephone company operators. A person may be calling for emergency help while the operator was giving information on the number of Aunt Betsy in Louisiana or Uncle Charles in Oklahoma, which lead to delays in emergency responses. Telephone companies were facing the problem of how to separate emergencies from general business. For over ten years the idea was discussed and argued about among the different agencies who wanted to receive the calls. Police said they should answer all calls, the Fire Department felt they were the better choice, some even felt the local hospital was the best answer.
According to a report in the Fayette, Alabama Times Record commemorating the 25th anniversary of the historic event, B.W. Gallagher, President of Alabama Telephone Company, said he was inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal. He read that the president of AT&T and the FCC had announced that 911 would be the nationwide emergency number. Being a bit offended by the fact that the views of the independent telephone industry had been overlooked in this decision, Gallagher decided to make the Alabama Telephone Company the first to implement 9-1-1.
Gallagher consulted with Robert Fitzgerald, inside plant manager for the Alabama Telephone Company, who examined schematics of the company’s 27 exchanges. Fitzgerald chose Haleyville because its existing equipment was best suited to be quickly converted to receive 9-1-1 calls. Fitzgerald then designed the circuitry and installed the first 911 system in less than a week. Working with Fitzgerald to achieve this goal were technicians Pete Gosa, Jimmy White, Al Bush and Glenn Johnston.
In the early stages, the city fathers were skeptical of 9-1-1 calls being answered at the police station. They, like persons in Congress, were afraid that the city might not have the personnel qualified to answer “all out emergency calls”.
Haleyville, Alabama introduced the nation’s first 9-1-1 system which was located at the police station. Alabama Speaker of the House, Rankin Fite, made the first call from another city hall room. It was answered by Congressman Tom Bevill on a bright red telephone located in the police department. Also on hand was Haleyville Mayor James Whitt, Public Service Commission President Eugene (Bull) Connor, and B. W. Gallagher.
So on February 16, 1968, the first 9-1-1 call was made
Happy Birthday 9-1-1! You’re looking pretty good for a 43 year old, not to mention you save countless lives every single day.
An audio version of this blog is available on my Podcast:
Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he provides the strategic roadmap and direction of Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, and co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the EU, where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.