Tuesday, February 18, 2014

9-1-1 Emergency, How May I Help You?


Due to a family funeral, I recently made a trip to my parents’ hometown Haleyville, Alabama. Haleyville is a small town in the northwest quadrant of Alabama. Although it may not be a major metropolis, its proud history includes something many of us take for granted: being the home of 9-1-1.

In 1968 B.W. Gallagher, President of Alabama Telephone Company, was inspired by an article he read in The Wall Street Journal. The article stated that the president of AT&T, which was the major telephone carrier at the time, and the Federal Communications Commission were announcing 9-1-1 to be the nationwide emergency number. Gallagher wanted to make the Alabama Telephone Company the first to implement the new 9-1-1 system—it was his competitive spirit. Gallagher consulted with Robert Fitzgerald, inside plant manager for the Alabama Telephone Company, who examined schematics of the company’s 27 exchanges. Fitzgerald suggested Haleyville because its existing equipment was best suited to be quickly converted to receive 9-1-1 calls. In less than a week Fitzgerald designed and installed the first 9-1-1 system. Haleyville introduced the nation’s first 9-1-1 system, which was located at the police station.

On February 16, 1968, Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite made the first call from Haleyville’s city hall. It was answered by Congressman Tom Bevill on a bright red telephone. While the official red 9-1-1 telephone now resides in a museum in Haleyville, a duplicate phone is still in use today. Happy 46th Birthday, 9-1-1!

Carla Perkins
Avondale Library

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