London

911 dispatcher looks back at 21 years with the London Fire Department

Emergency dispatcher Ida Piroli reflects on her career of more than 20 years upon retiring from the London Fire Department.

Ida Piroli hangs up her headset after more than two decades with London Fire Department

London Fire Department communications operator Idea Piroli recently retired after more than twenty years as an emergency dispatcher. (Twitter, @LdnOntFire)

Stay calm, no matter what.

After more than two decades as a communications operator for the London Fire Department, Ida Piroli has learned that keeping her cool is the most critical part of the job.

"You need to help these people in their most difficult times," Piroli said. "But inside, you could be screaming. You could be afraid. But you can't let that show. You're trained to do these things, and that comes shining through. You get through it."

For any Londoner who's had to call 911 over the last 21 years, there's a good chance Ida Piroli was the calm voice on the other end of the line. After many years with the London Fire Department, Piroli has decided to retire. She worked her final shift on Aug. 27, describing it as "bittersweet" and "surreal."

The toughest times

Piroli spent her days on the phone with people who are often in crisis situations. It's a job that can often be difficult and even traumatic.

"Child fatalities are really, really hard to deal with," she said. "I've also dealt with coworkers' death and suicide. I have a strong family support network, along with a lot of friends who support me through difficult times like that."

Piroli also credits the London Fire Department's Critical Incident Stress Management team - of which she is a member - as a vital resource for dealing with the stress that comes with the role. It's a peer support program for first responders, meant to reduce instances of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Most memorable calls

Piroli said there are many calls from throughout her career that have stayed in her mind, pointing to a recent call that saved two kayakers in London's Thames River as a highlight. She also cites calls related to the 2011 tornado in Goderich as an experience she won't forget.

But one of her most unusual days on the job involves a call that likely should have never been placed to 911 in the first place.

"I had one many, many years ago from the Bell operator, calling me on an emergency line to find out what the phone number was to a volunteer fire department," she said, laughing incredulously at the memory.

"So, I said 'OK...let me get this straight: you're Bell...calling me for a phone number? May I suggest you dial '0' for the operator?!" she laughed.

Piroli began her career as a dispatcher with the Leamington Police in 1988. She worked for Western University's campus police from 1991 until 1999 before dispatching for the London Fire Department.

Of her retirement, Piroli said she's looking forward to "doing whatever it is I want to do without a timeline." Some of her retired former colleagues threw her a backyard party to celebrate her retirement, and she also has plans to celebrate with current employees in the coming weeks.

"I'll miss helping people and trying to make a difference," she said.

The London Fire Department also honours recent retirees at an annual gala that typically happens in the fall, but Piroli says it's likely to be cancelled this year because of COVID-19.

If you're in London and ever had to call 9-1-1 in the last twenty years, there's a good chance Ida Piroli took your call. She was the calm voice on the other end of the line for decades. Piroil is retiring after twenty years as a communications operator with London Fire Department. Afternoon Drive host, Chris dela Torre, spoke to Piroli about her career and what she wants to do in retirement. 7:37

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