Kyla Ledford enjoyed her brief tenure as a Blount County emergency dispatcher so much 20 years ago that she came back in 2017.

The Walland native’s professionalism in 2018 earned her so much respect that she was named Telecommunicator of the Year on Tuesday at the Blount County Emergency Communications District.

“It’s always been my passion, and it’s great to get back here,” Ledford said as honorees at the event enjoyed a quick lunch with local first responders before heading back to the switchboard.

The annual ceremony was part of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, a rare chance for the public to honor the faceless voices on the front lines of emergency response.

Communications Director Jimmy Long said he tries to thank his staff every day for their service, a sentiment shared by Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp.

“It’s certainly a worthy time to do that,” Crisp said.

Ledford joined the center in 1999 and worked for a couple of years before taking time off to raise five children.

She returned in March 2017. Eleven months later came the call every dispatcher dreads, from a veterans services crisis line operator who lost contact with a suicidal man.

“She demonstrated great resourcefulness and texted him, eventually locating the subject to help him,” Long said.

Ledford helped to locate a missing child a few months later before coordinating response to an armed robbery in October.

“I don’t feel deserving of it,” Ledford said. “We’re a team, and everyone deserves it. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”

Long also took time to honor his department’s top monthly employees.

March’s Employee of the Month, Mark “Bubba” Ownsby, shone after a car crashed into a local business, trapping several people inside.

“Bubba stayed on the line with a panicked citizen, asking questions,” Long said. “Not only was that information valuable to first responders, it helped to keep a panicking citizen from panicking any further.”

David Burton, a 21-year veteran, was April’s Employee of the Month for his service in gathering donated items from local businesses to show appreciation for his fellow staffers.

“Over 100 items were donated,” Long said.

A special service award was given to Mike and Laurie Walter and service greyhound, Chace, which gives the staff a much-needed jolt of happiness when he visits a few days a week.

“They stay out of the way, but they do a wonderful thing,” Long said.

Other honorees include:

• Years of Service Award: Susan Porter and Richee Kidd, 25 years: Scott Gregory, Matt Graves and Marie Strain, 15; Derek Reyes, five.

• Perfect Attendance: Marie Strain, Derek Reyes, Wayne Baldwin, Richee Kidd, Charity Gentry and James Long.

Dispatch centers often are noted for high stress and high turnover, but Blount County is different ,according to Porter, who serves as supervisor.

Being married to a deputy helps, since he understands what she deals with, but she also enjoys her staff’s camaraderie, she said.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 25 years, really,” Porter said. “When you love what you do it doesn’t feel like you’re coming to work.”

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