After 33 years of dispatch service, Tom Eades is changing his career path and joining the San Juan Island Fire and Rescue.
“I had brown hair — well, I actually had hair when I started this job I’ve been doing it for so long,” Eades laughed.
Although staying at the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department for decades, this certainly isn’t the first time Eades has changed career paths. With a military father, he is a native of Oak Harbor and grew up in Renton. He then went on to become a radio broadcaster in Port Angeles, which he did for about three years.
With the radio business not doing so well, he was eventually out of a job. When he saw the dispatch opening on San Juan Island, he traded in those three years of radio and set out on a ferry ride that unbeknownst to him would set the course for the next three decades of his life.
“I’m one of the few people who didn’t just come here because it is beautiful,” Eades said. “I just needed work and the island had it.”
Due to his background in radio, he said he felt that he took to the job pretty quickly, as he had to work with similar equipment.
However, the equipment was a lot more simple when he first arrived than today. At the time there was only a single dispatch console, telephone, and microphone.
In fact, if a call was disconnected during an emergency, they’d have to have a telephone technician come out and figure out where the call came from before they could send any police, fire, or EMS vehicles out.
Eades has also witnessed the population growth of the island. Changes in the community has caused his job to slowly become busier and busier. He has noticed in particular a vast increase in mental health crises.
“Back when I first started, we’d hear from mentally ill people maybe once a quarter. Now it is up to maybe 10 to 15 times a day,” he said. “That problem has gotten far worse.”
As Eades spoke, the dispatch room was busy with calls.
“I like to say it’s feast or famine,” he said. “Sometimes the calls are off the charts and other times we get no calls for hours.”
Despite the feast of famine pattern, Eades explained that since he started at the station three decades ago, the number of calls have grown exponentially.
While he has been a caring member of the community since the day he arrived, he said is ready to trade stressful dispatch calls for his passion for firefighting.
Eades said he has always been fascinated with the fire department, so much so that he has been a volunteer firefighter on the island since 1988, often heading to the fire station after a dispatch shift. He even rose to the rank of acting fire chief at one point, said Noel Monin, Assistant Chief Operations for San Juan County Fire.
Monin also said Eades already possesses a lot of knowledge for firefighting as he is currently a volunteer Lieutenant. As he becomes officially hired and starts work, his job title will change to apparatus operator.
“He’s a good operator, he’s earned it,” Monin said. “He’s also definitely an encyclopedia for fire engines. Not even just statewide, but nationally. You could ask him about a fire engine in Portland, Oregon, and he’ll know about it because he’s really really passionate about it.”
While the fire department is excited to gain another great asset to the team, dispatch is sorry so see a team member go.
His dispatch colleague of a year, Anthony Calandra, said, “There’s something to be said for having 30 years under your belt and the competence that comes with that. The amount of stories this man can recount in detail is uncanny. I’m going to miss this guy.”