Little red phone finds new home

Photo at left shows Craig Floyd, president and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Museum, and Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri at the official announcement that the red telephone used in the city for the first 9-1-1 call 50 years ago will be displayed at the museum. Photo at right 911 Dignitary Steve Souder presents Mayor Sunseri with a replica red phone to be displayed in the city hall foyer replacing the vintage red phone that is going to Washington.

HALEYVILLE - The small red rotor dialed telephone that opened emergency 9-1-1 calling services to the entire nation has its roots in Haleyville, the birth city for that call. After 50 years, the little red phone is about to find a new home--in Washington, D.C. where the 50th anniversary of that first 9-1-1 call has received much gala and celebration. During events surrounding Haleyville’s annual 9-1-1 festival, a special event entitled 9-1-1 Town Hall, featured the theme 9-1-1 Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, as federal 9-1-1 officials visited the city to not only present these informative workshops but also to make a special announcement. Craig Floyd, president and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington, D.C., made the official announcement that the iconic red phone will be displayed in the museum during its grand opening Oct. 11 of this year. The museum, a $102 million project, will feature a three floor museum in 58,000 square feet, all underground, where the red phone will be among the 20,000 artifacts displayed. In fact, the phone will be displayed in a special section of the museum specifically designed to honor emergency 9-1-1 and the nation’s birthplace for that call. Floyd called Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri to the front of the City Hall courtroom, where all eyes from the federal, state and local level, were focused on the phone displayed in its case and this special announcement. “We have a 9-1-1 emergency op center that’s a part of this museum,” Floyd began. “It is going to be one of the most popular areas in this museum, where the visitor becomes the emergency 9-1-1 call dispatcher.” Three stations will be set up with high tech video screens and other equipment, to give the visitor a sense of reality of the experience, Floyd explained. The visitor will be given dozens of different scenarios that would represent emergency situations. “You get a 9-1-1 call. You’re the dispatcher. What do you do?” Floyd asked. “You’ll have multiple decisions to make during that critical decision making process. “You’ll learn how difficult it can be, but also how important it is to get specific information from the caller and then respond to it accordingly, in a very calm, professional way,” added Floyd. The visitor will have three minutes to dispatch as many calls as they can, Floyd indicated. The 9-1-1 exhibit will be the feature for Motorola Solutions, the major sponsor of the museum, Floyd stated. Turning to the red phone on display in a case at the front of the room, Floyd then said, “This is where it all began. We’re going to tell the story of the 9-1-1 emergency calling system. “So, why not tell the story of Haleyville, Alabama where the first call was made,” he said. Mayor Sunseri then came forward, as Floyd explained that Mayor Sunseri and other local officials joined him in Washington, D.C. this past February to honor the actual date of the historical call’s 50th anniversary on Feb. 16. “I learned a lot about the history of Haleyville and the history of the phone,” Floyd said. One of the options considered in loaning the red phone was the Smithsonian Institute, but the history of the National Law Enforcement Museum was explained and how the 9-1-1 exhibit would be set to explain Haleyville’s role in that legendary first call. On Thursday, May 31, the first public announcement was made that the phone would be displayed in the museum, after the Mayor granted that privilege. “The Haleyville 9-1-1 phone will be the featured attraction in our 9-1-1 emergency op center exhibitors,” Floyd said, met with resounding applause from the audience. “So, we will be telling the story of Haleyville and 9-1-1 for many years to come and the phone will obviously be a featured part of that exhibition,” said Floyd. Mayor Sunseri and other local delegates have been invited to join in the celebration this October at the museum’s grand opening, he said. The museum has been estimated to draw in at least 400,000 visitors per year, according to Floyd. “The story of our 9-1-1 emergency call center is a story that is absolutely essential to American law enforcement and public safety,” he said. “Too many people don’t know the story behind 9-1-1.” Mayor Sunseri responded, “It’s a real honor for the city of Haleyville to be recognized during this 50th anniversary of the 9-1-1.” Sunseri added he was excited about the red phone being displayed in Washington, D.C. “We’re going to have so many people visit that museum that will be exposed to over 400,000 visitors a year which could be much greater than what we could do here in Haleyville,” the mayor said. Even though the red phone on which the original 9-1-1 call was made will be displayed in Washington, D.C., the city will not have a void, noted Steve Souder of the Washington. D.C. 9-1-1 professional delegation that visited. “Mr. Mayor, we first met when 9-1-1 went to Washington in back in February,” Souder addressed Sunseri. Since that time, Souder has worked with 9-1-1 Delegate Christy Williams as well as other key visitors during the May 31 workshops such as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Alicia Burns, committee chairperson for the town hall meeting, Retired Admiral David Simpson, former FCC bureau chief, public safety and homeland security, on shaping the 9-1-1 Town Meeting. “When it became obvious that the phone at some point in time would be leaving Haleyville to reside in another location, and we didn’t know at that time if it would be the Smithsonian or whether it would be the National Law Enforcement Museum,” Souder said. Souder further explained that when the red phone goes to Washington, D.C., it will leave a void in the city hall foyer where it has been displayed along with other 9-1-1- and city historical displays. Knowing this, Souder went online and found a replica red telephone matching the one leaving the city and purchased it as a replacement. “The challenge was to get the center of the phone tag out of there and replaced by a 9-1-1 that looks exactly like the 9-1-1 on the (original) phone,” said Souder. Due to the original phone being vintage, it was difficult to find one where the center of the rotor dial would be replaced with the 9-1-1 numbers, he said. “You are not going to be able to find a more authentic replica to your red phone than this one,” Souder said. Souder also presented Mayor Sunseri with a framed copy of a statement explaining that the red phone on display in the City Hall foyer will be a replica of the one that is going to be displayed in the Washington, D.C. museum. The statement also mentioned the specifics of that first 9-1-1 call, where then Speaker of the House Rankin Fite from the office of Mayor James Whitt  (Mayor Sunseri’s father-in-law) called the police department where Congressman Tom Bevill answered. “Fifty years later, 9-1-1 is the most recognized number in the United States called more than 240 million times a year, six and half million times a day,” Souder said. “Eighty percent of the 9-1-1 calls are from mobile devices and 70 percent of the 9-1-1 calls are for law enforcement incidents,” he added. The original red phone would be on loan to and on display at the museum for all of America to see the phone that changed the nation, Souder proudly stated. “We certainly appreciate this,” responded Mayor Sunseri. “On behalf of the citizens of Haleyville, we thank you very much.” Rosenworcel Keynote Speaker Rosenworcel, keynote speaker for the town hall workshops, noted that, “Haleyville is a small place, but it deserves a really big place in the history books. “We’re here to celebrate that today,” Rosenworcel said. “What happened here in Alabama started a race that got a little bit competitive. In a week after that first 9-1-1 call happened here, the second one was made all the way across the country in Nome, Alaska.” Over time, all across the country, 9-1-1 was adopted as the nation’s emergency number, Rosenworcel stated. Congress has since then put into law that 9-1-1 is the national emergency number, she added. “The story of Haleyville reminds us that the most important innovations can come from anywhere,” added Rosenworcel, “and that there’s genius residing everywhere in this country, and when you mix that with the ability to get something done, you reap real lasting change and you can make progress that is felt everywhere. “To me, that’s the real story of Haleyville and 9-1-1,” Rosenworcel pointed out. She related that 240 million calls a year come in to 9-1-1. “It all started right here,” she said. Rosenworcel said remembering 9-1-1 should not be just in numbers and history but in a look towards the future. Sadly, the nation does not always recognize emergency 9-1-1 operators, who save lives and are everyday heroes, said Rosenworcel. The Office of Management and Budget classifies 9-1-1 operators as clerical workers, she stated. “If you ask me, that’s wrong. It’s not right. I believe every 9-1-1 operator in this country is owed the dignity in being assigned the status of Public Safety Professional,” she said, met with resounding applause from the audience. The workshops also discussed Next Generation 9-1-1, which ironically marked a first for the state right here in Winston County where the first call was made at the county’s emergency 9-1-1 center in Double Springs. NG 9-1-1 is progressing that 9-1-1 alerts will be given by text, with video images or pictures from scenes being transmitted to dispatchers helping give a more precise location of the call’s location. Other special guests at the 9-1-1 Town Hall workshops included U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt, Leah Missildine, director of the Alabama 9-1-1 Board, as well as officials from both the federal and state NENA,

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