Dispatcher retires after 42 years, but plans return


  • Henry Baj has been an emergency dispatcher in Hadley since 1976. HADLEY POLICE DEPARTMENT

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 03, 2019

HADLEY — Upon graduating high school in 1976, Henry Baj became a civilian emergency dispatcher for Hadley’s police and fire departments.

On Saturday afternoon, more than 42 years later, Baj was recognized by his colleagues with a plaque and a cake for working his last shift as a part-time dispatcher — though he fully expects that the farewell will be short lived.

“I miss the place already,” Baj said when reached by phone Monday. “I enjoy helping people and being involved if they need a question answered or a call put in for service.”

Baj, 60, is retiring from his long-time job at the physical plant at the University of Massachusetts and, because of the rules of the the Hampshire County Retirement System, he was forced to terminate his career as a dispatcher, at least temporarily. But he should be able to return in some capacity for a limited number of hours per week once his retirement paperwork is sorted out.

“I live in town and I want to stay involved,” Baj said. “I’d like to come back if there’s a place for me, so to speak.”

Police Chef Michael Mason said his department expects Baj to be back because of how assured police officers and firefighters have been with him “on the desk” over the past four decades.

“He has been a reliable and professional dispatcher and was always one of the people who we have tried to model training new dispatchers after,” Mason said. “His attention to detail was second to none, and all of those who worked here over the years really enjoyed being around him.”

Due to his long tenure, Baj has seen numerous changes in how dispatching is done, starting well before residents could dial 911 or have round-the-clock service.

It was just two years before he started that the town built a communications center room onto the old horse barn that was the headquarters for the public safety departments at 42 West St. Prior to 1974, he noted, the police chief would get calls at his home, and the fire department siren would blow to alert the community of an emergency.

There were three phone lines at the time, one for police, another for fire emergencies and the third for fire department business, and hand-written reports were done by dispatchers until 1983, when the first computer was purchased.

Baj recalls people dropping in to get burning permits or pistol licenses. “At the time it was a big thing for the town, a place for people to go,” Baj said.

While dispatchers still serve as greeters to residents at the current fire and police station, the Dennis J. Hukowicz Public Safety Complex built in the 1990s, they also must operate five separate computers running close to 10 programs, and answer telephone calls on five business lines, as well as voice and text 911 calls. Often Baj said he is doing three things at once, such as talking to a person on the line, activating the emergency personnel and putting information into the computer system.

Having more full-time staff for police and fire, and adding a town ambulance beginning in 2018, has been another change. “That’s increased our load,” Baj said, adding that the town may eventually need to have two dispatchers on at a time. Hadley has three full-time dispatchers and several part-time dispatchers.

If all goes according to plan, Baj could be a dispatcher again in March.

“I would like to return because of the people there, the close-knit family,” Baj said. “We’re all there for one reason, to answer the call from the public.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.