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Dispatcher retires after 38 years
After 38 years of working at the Colusa County Sheriff's Office, Frances Austin — the second-longest tenured employee at the department — had a retirement party held in her honor on Dec. 27 signifying the end to a long and successful career.
"I've seen a lot of people come through there ... The only person that's been there longer than me is the sheriff, Scott Marshall," said Austin.
Austin began at the Colusa County Sheriff's Department in 1975 as a cadet. Austin then worked in dispatch full-time until ten years ago, at which point she moved over to the coroner's office as an evidence technician.
It was at the Colusa County Sheriff's Office that Austin met her husband, Doug Austin, in 1979. The couple married in 1981 and have two daughters. The Austins worked there together for 28 years until Doug Austin retired as a lieutenant in 2007.
"I'm going to play with my grandkids, work in my yard, and maybe actually learn how to play golf instead of being a hacker," Austin said of her retirement plans on December 31. "We're going to Fort Bragg tomorrow. People are asking me how long we're planning to stay, and I have been telling them that I'm not sure."
While the retired life is giving Austin the opportunity to spend as much time on the coast with her family as she likes, she said she is going to miss the people that she worked with the most:
"I'm going to miss the people, obviously. Right now, I think we have an incredible group of men and women working in the department. I think the county is lucky with the men and women that they have right now."
Asked what she would miss the least about her job, Austin thought for some time before giving her answer.
"The thing I'm going to miss the least is also the most rewarding. Probably dealing with the coroner's cases," Austin said. "Giving someone their husband's watch back — that's the hardest part. But at the same time, I'd like to think I did an OK job at it."
Getting her start
Frances Austin knew early on that she wanted to be involved with law enforcement.
"When I was in high school, I wanted to be a police officer. My intent was to go to the academy. I worked in the jail. Back then, dispatch worked in the jail as matrons, too. After about the third time I had someone throw up on me, I realized I wasn't cut out to be an officer."
She recalled that when she began working as a dispatcher, the sheriff's office's dispatch more or less consisted of a single office phone with multiple lines:
"When I started, it was pretty much an office phone with five lines — three sheriff's office phone lines, one Colusa Police Department phone line, and one Williams Police Department phone line. It started as pretty much an office desk phone and evolved into being a lot more technical and a hard job," Austin said.
When asked if it was ever difficult working in the same place as her husband, Frances Austin laughed before she responded:
"Yes. I don't recommend it."
She added her kids will enjoy that they are both retired.
Austin recalled one particularly difficult call that came in when she was working dispatch that involved her husband.
"I was dispatching, and Doug stopped a van with seven people in it out by Delevan. I was the one who told him it was stolen. That was a nerve-racking experience.
Heroes — seen and unseen
Frances Austin lauded the entire staff at the Colusa County Sheriff's Office.
"I think the county is lucky with the group of men and women that they have right now. They should feel good about the people they have answering calls and responding to calls."
Austin added that the incoming sheriff will be lucky to inherit that group.
In particular, Austin pointed to a group of people at the office who work behind the scenes to serve their community.
"There is a whole network of people in the office that no one knows exist, and I was one of them," said Austin. "The last ten years, I've worked in the coroner's office as an evidence technician and only part time as a dispatcher. But I have to say that dispatch is the most underrated job in the department. They are the first people the public talks to. They have to answer the calls from the public, send out and direct the emergency personnel, call for a helicopter for a life-flight if it is needed. ...They earn every dollar that they make. They are kind of the unseen heroes."
— Brian Pearson