For nearly three decades, she was the voice that most people heard but the person most never saw — a fire dispatcher with a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable professionals you want on the end of a 911 call.
And, for her colleagues and the dozens of first responders at numerous agencies who got to “know” her over the years, she became known as quite the character.
And now, following her sendoff party Sept. 8, Gloria Lee-Ré is adjusting to life after 12-hour shifts of wearing a headset and pounding 32-ounce jugs of iced tea (no sugar, please) while handling calls from people experiencing the worst moments of their lives.
Lee-Ré has tons of them.
Like the time when a man in his 70s called 911 because he was concerned about his wife.
“I want you to make her talk to me,” the man told Lee-Ré, a longtime fixture at Metro Net Fire Dispatch, the Anaheim-based dispatch service that serves Anaheim, Brea, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and City of Orange.
That’s 1.2 million people in an area of about 200 square miles.
Turns out the man’s wife had not spoken to him in three to four days.
“I thought for sure she had died,” Lee-Ré recalled of the call. “But she was alive. She had had a stroke.”
Or the time when the sweet 78-year-old lady explained to Lee-Ré the nature of her emergency.
“She had popped out one of her hips getting a little frisky,” Lee-Ré said.
Around Metro Net, Lee-Ré became known as quite the character — a Halloween fanatic who would decorate the dispatch center every October. She also was known as a high-energy dispatcher who preferred to stand most of her shift.
And anytime she was asked how she was doing, Lee-Ré always would respond: “Just peachy.”
Lee-Ré’s quirky ways, she says, were all about making the hours pass faster for her colleagues, who spend countless time together, including holidays, away from their families and loved ones.
“If anyone is considering police or fire dispatch as a job,” Lee-Ré says, “yes the hours may be difficult, and you may miss a lot of family get-togethers, but you also develop an extended family.
“And the work you do can impact others — not just the callers, but the field personnel who get to know you and whose days you can make just a little bit better.”
Lee-Ré, 54, started her career as a police dispatcher in Stanton, when the city had its own police department, in May 1981. (Stanton now contracts with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.)
At that time, Lee-Ré was a 19-year-old who had considered a career in mortuary sciences but instead applied for police dispatcher — and fell in love with the job.
Lee-Ré served as a police dispatcher in Stanton for 3 ½ years before she joined the Huntington Beach PD as a police dispatcher, where she worked for nearly six years. She started working as a full-time fire dispatcher for Net-4, the predecessor agency to Metro Net, in August 1986 while working part-time as a Huntington Beach Police dispatcher.
She retired as a dispatch supervisor at Metro Net after a career of 29 years and two months.
Now Lee-Ré, who lives in Orange, looks forward to spending more time with her daughter, Autumn Jo, 21, whose diagnosis at age 15 with Burkitt’s Lymphoma inspired Lee-Ré to get a lime-green tattoo of a ribbon and the word “hope” in Japanese (the kanji characters are pronounced “kibo’’).
Autumn, a student, now is healthy.
Lee-Ré, a native of Anaheim and youngest of five children (two of her brothers are retired police officers), also is looking forward to spending more time with her longtime “significant other,” Shane. Her maiden name is Lee but she still incorporates the last name of her former husband in her surname.
Among the personnel at the fire departments she worked with, Lee-Ré was regarded as a knowledgeable and capable supervisor whose background and experience made her an invaluable asset. She was seen as being very dependable and reliable, especially when situations escalated.
Lee-Ré earned two life-saving awards during her career and helped a caller deliver a girl and another a boy. Now that she is retired, she plans to spend some time with her mother, who lives in Tucson, before figuring out her next move. Lee-Ré says she may return to Metro Net as a part-time dispatcher.
For now, with some much-needed down town, Lee-Ré is getting ready for Halloween.
She still hasn’t decided yet on a costume.
Perhaps she can dress up as a fire dispatcher?
“Hahaha,” she shot back. “Maybe a writer?”