This is where it begins...
“This is where it begins Ricardo…”
That sticks in my head. I think about that moment. I think about that day in Lansing, Michigan for the 2013 Michigan NENA conference. I had just finished a podcast episode with Jim Marshall of the then 9-1-1 Wellness Foundation and Ron, a supporter of the podcast and early sponsor walked up to me after a phone call he was just on and said, “You’re going to nationals.” I was puzzled. “Awesome! What’s that?” He told me that he had spoken to those on the board and they were going to have a section for podcasts and I was invited to join. I was taken back but I was excited. Jim put his arm around me and said, “This is where it begins Ricardo.”
“What,” I asked.
He replied by saying, “Everything…”
I have never forgotten that. Leading up to that day at the conference was a lot of work in dispatch and the podcast. I had added my good friend and co-worker Whitney to my podcast as a co-host, the media had done a few stories on what the show was about, and I was preparing to present at the conference and record episodes. Prior to the conference I remember my assistant director had asked me on behalf of Jeri Tapper, director of Van Buren County at the time and Michigan NENA board member, if I would be interested in doing it and I was floored but immediately said yes. I remember seeing Jeri and she told me she believed in what I was doing and that I was going to do big things for the industry. She has since passed away and as I sit here fighting tears, I will never forget her words. I know if she were here, she would tell me to get it together with a snicker and I would but damn I’m so very grateful. Thank you for believing in me.
There was so much support and interest that I knew I had something. Around this time back then I was preparing for what would be my first national show. I was nervous but I was determined. When the time came to head out to Charlotte, North Carolina for the conference I had just worked a 1p-1a shift in dispatch. I drove straight there. When I arrived I was exhausted.
The one thing I wanted most was to sleep. I remember walking in to check-in to the hotel and there were papers everywhere. The person at the desk was sweating and panicked and on the phone.
“Can I help you?”, she asked.
“Yeah I just need to check in.”
“Um…yeah you’re not going to be able to do that. My entire system crashed, and I have no record of anything right now.”
I stood there annoyed but understood and left to find another hotel. Luckily the area I was in had hotel after hotel on the same road but each one I stopped at was either full or I had to wait until 3 to check-in. I felt horrible and had a headache from lack of sleep but decided to try one last hotel. I walked in and the person at the desk was on the phone and I figured their system had crashed too.
“Hold on baby!”
I stopped and waited.
“So, you’re telling me you went to the other hotel? You’re scheduled here and you were supposed to relieve me 15 minutes ago….”
I stood there thinking, “Oh shit! She’s mad. This could be good or bad for me.”
“Well you better find someone else to come in then! I’m sorry, can I help you?”
“Uh…yeah. Can I get a room? I’m exhausted and traveled…”
“Baby you can get a room and check in now. I don’t even care, I got you.”
I could’ve given her a hug because I needed to sleep before heading over to setup for the show and she hooked me up. I unpacked and power napped for almost two hours and then I was off to the conference. I remember walking in and seeing NENA logos everywhere. I had the chance to walk the industry partner floor and I was almost in shock. I had no idea that this existed. Up until that point I thought NENA, the National Emergency Number Association, was only done at a state level with each one having their own chapter. I didn’t know there was a mothership, so to speak, and a national show. The excitement of interviewing dispatchers and industry leaders from all over kept me going. I met so many people there and those connections, and partnerships? It all started with NENA.
The majority of them are now very close friends. One of those close friends is Nathan Lee. Not many people know this but, a few months prior to this conference I was watching Dateline with my wife. The story was about Denise Amber Lee. It was a hard story to take in but a powerful one as her husband Nathan created the Denise Amber Lee Foundation and was working on training standards and much more for the 9-1-1 community. Fast-forward to the conference, I’m looking at the conference booklet and notice that a session on training standards is going to be held and Nathan was going to be on the panel. I attended the session and afterwards I had him, and the rest of the panel join me for an episode. I was honored and humbled to have him on to share Denise’s story and help spread the word on the foundation. I remember calling my wife and telling her what had happened, and she couldn’t believe it. I told her that I hoped that one day we could collaborate on something. Since then we have kept in touch and now, we are pretty close friends.
It’s crazy how things happen and sometimes all at once but again, it started with NENA. I recorded episodes in the podcast zone for a couple more years but after that I took a break to focus on the marketing and communications of the company that I work for, INdigital. Incidentally, it was at that first NENA conference that I was offered a job with INdigital. The President of the company, who found me through my Kickstarter campaign for the podcast, showed up and asked what I was doing for dinner. I remember saying to him, “Whatever you’re doing.” That evening I took a step towards my future as an Industry Partner. Actually, in reality it took a couple weeks because leaving dispatch, something I love dearly, was pretty hard but I knew I had something, and I wanted to somehow give back to dispatch.
It’s the week of June 5, 2019 and as I sit here reflecting on where it all began, I can’t help but get butterflies. I’m nervous again but it feels good. I’m coming home. I’m headed back to the podcast zone for the 2019 NENA conference in Orlando, Florida but much has changed. Six years ago, I was in my early 20’s for episodes and the downloads were minimal. Now, I’m at almost 270 episodes that feature 9-1-1 professionals and their amazing stories and I’m about fifty thousand downloads away from one million. The podcast is heard globally, and dispatchers are being recognized for the work they do and the high stress they endure through the #IAM911 movement and the Imagine Listening sessions. I have sponsors such as RapidDeploy, the Cloud Aided Dispatch company that is revolutionizing the 9-1-1 industry and how we look at computer aided dispatch programs and RapidSOS, a company that is taking on location accuracy in a very big way with much success. NENA 2019 will also mark the fourth time that I have been able to give back by helping send a 9-1-1 professional to a national conference by way of the Within the Trenches Continuing Education Scholarship with the help of my all-time supporter, INdigital.
Yes, much has changed, but I will never forget where it all started and who helped me get there. There is so much more to my story but at the national level? It all started with NENA and baby, I’m coming home…