In 20 years as a dispatcher, Roger Caldwell saw and heard things that continue to weigh heavily on his mind even now that he has retired. The Buffalo Police Department dispatcher retired on Jan. 27, 2021.
From July 2000 to his retirement date, Caldwell fielded a barrage of calls, including major traffic accidents and other emergencies. Sometimes the callers later died of their injuries. One of the worst calls he received was an accident that claimed the lives of three generations of a family.
He also once received a call from his wife whose vehicle rolled over after she hit a patch of black ice. He had to stay at work while she was taken to the hospital to be evaluated for injury. Fortunately, he said, someone happened to pass by and see her, so he did not have to call an ambulance.
“I tried to keep on an even keel,” Caldwell said. “I tried to react like I normally would, but it was personal. It was harder.”
Other times, he took calls from people who were distressed or lost.
“Dealing with emotions was the hardest part for me,” Caldwell said. “I am kind of thin-skinned.”
From his desk in the police department, he said, he watched a lot of people with problems come through, and many of them made repeat visits. He said he did not always see the best side of people, and he often wondered why people could not pull themselves out of a bad situation.
“You see another part of the community that you would not normally see,” Caldwell said, “and you get a different perception of people after a while.”
After a while, however, he developed defense mechanisms that helped him cope with what he saw and heard.
“I learned to put stuff on the back burner,” he said, adding that he also joked around with coworkers to reduce stress.
When he first started as a dispatcher, Caldwell said, sitting at a desk for long hours was hard for him, because he had worked outside for most of his life. It also took a while to adjust his “physical clock” to the odd work schedule, and he often felt sleep deprived on his days off.
“I didn’t know what was up and what was down,” he said.
He said he picked up the job quickly with help from a supervisor, partly because he was already familiar with a radio communications system from his previous job with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.
Caldwell said he took the dispatch job to help increase community safety and because he had permanent work restrictions from a back injury while removing railroad tracks.
Despite the downsides of being a dispatcher, Caldwell said he found the job rewarding. He hopes to have done good for others in the community, though he often feels he did not do enough.
“I’m hoping I was more on the helpful side than the non-helpful side,” he said.
He said he will miss his coworkers, though he joked that they are probably thinking, ‘Whew, that guy’s gone.’”
Caldwell said he plans to spend more time on hobbies, such as riding motorcycles, rebuilding cars and working in the yard.
“I’ll be getting older and sitting in my rocking chair on the porch, waving my cane at the deer and antelope, yelling, ‘Get off my lawn,’” he said.