Life on the Summit: Hey, Spike! thinks we’re in good hands at 911
Special to the Daily
Summit County 911 likely has the most experienced director in the entire U.S. — personally and professionally.
William L. “Bill” Pessemier, with a doctorate in public administration from the University of Colorado, runs the Summit County Communications Center, and has for almost four years.
Life — Spike!’s readers will learn — has been a series of challenges for Bill. He continues to meet them all head on.
As most know, 911 calls are usually dire situations requiring immediate responses.
Bill’s team of 25, including dispatchers, supervisors, technical support staff and office administrators, helps him make the best of these.
Without getting into too much detail, Bill’s life experiences include these events:
• Born in Seattle and adopted with his twin brother, Bob, by “mom” from New Zealand and his Pike Place Market tavern-owner “dad.”
• His parents divorced when he and Bob were 7; mom later remarried and they moved to Bellevue, Washington.
• “About five years later, my dad was shot and killed in his tavern by his girlfriend.”
• “My step-dad was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and died two years later.”
• “My wife, Rose, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is cancer of the lymph system. We had a beautiful marriage over the 20 years we were together, but it was not to last. The disease took her life a year after she was diagnosed. Only nine months before, my mom had died from Alzheimer’s disease.”
• And then it was this very tragic, public event: “As the fire chief for Littleton, I was the incident commander for the response to the shootings at Columbine High School.”
Bill remains positive and uses these experiences to help others cope.
Relying on this philosophy, the 59-year-old says, “Life has a way of taking its own path, and I am grateful for the journey of my life. But this has been one of the most joyful times of life for me, to be in the mountains, in a place where the sun almost always shines, and to share that joy with others.”
“Living and working in Summit County is everything I could hope for at this point in my life. I love to ski, fly-fish, hike, bike and sail, so all the things I enjoy are here. And I am very fortunate to work with some really great people in the communications center and with county government. It is a joy to finally be living and working in the mountains, which is what I had wanted to do after I graduated from high school a long time ago,” Bill says.
SERVING THE PUBLIC
Bill’s public service career got its start while he was in college.
“I went to junior and senior high school in Bellevue, and studied forestry at the University of Washington because I wanted to live and work in the mountains. Even in junior high school, I loved to ski and spent summers hiking, rock climbing and mountaineering. Also, while at the UW, I became a volunteer firefighter with the Bellevue Fire Department. That led to a 30-year career in the fire service.
“I was hired full-time by the Bellevue Fire Department in 1981 and served as firefighter, company officer, and training officer over the next 10 years,” he adds.
Bill was later named fire chief for the city of Urbana, Illinois, where he earned a master’s in public administration from the University of Illinois.
“After three years there, I wanted very much to return to the mountains and was fortunate enough to be offered the job of fire chief for the Littleton Fire Department, and so moved here with my wife and daughters in 1998,” he explains.
The death of wife Rose led to what Bill terms “one of those transition periods in life, working through the grief of her loss, and raising two teenage daughters on my own.”
Bill left his position as the fire chief and accepted a consulting job with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC).
“I traveled the U.S. making a presentation to public safety conferences on command, control and communications at large-scale operations, using the (April 20, 1999) incident at Columbine as an example of what can go wrong and how to do better,” he says. “That also allowed me to go back to school and earn a doctorate in public affairs from the University of Colorado.”
Following five years with the IAFC, Bill accepted a position as a professor at Oklahoma State University, as part of the faculty with the Fire and Emergency Management Program.
“It was really fun to teach undergraduate classes in political science and graduate classes in the fire program, but once again, I really missed the mountains,” he says of the High Country’s attractive call.
After two years at OSU, he resigned, returned to Colorado, with no idea what he’d do for work.
“I just knew that Colorado was home, and I wanted to come back home. After about a year of doing some consulting work, I was very fortunate to be offered the position of director with the Summit County 911 Communications Center. I moved from Littleton to Frisco and have been here for almost four years now,” he says.
Today, Bill also enjoys life being the father of those two daughters, Lindsay and Laura, who live in Glendale, Arizona, and Albany, Oregon, respectively.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former Climax miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org
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