Unfortunately, during our 18 years living in Fairfax County, Virginia we’ve had to call 911 more times than Hillary and I would like to say. Without exception, the call takers and dispatchers have been outstanding. While he would not likely admit it, and instead point to all those real first responders working at the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications, Steve Souder has had more than a little to do with the excellent service the public gets when dialing 911 in Fairfax.
After 11 years running Fairfax County 911 and 62 years in public safety, my friend Steve is retiring.
Steve started as a firefighter in the District of Columbia. His first day assigned as a dispatcher was April 4, 1968. Of course that was the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed and DC erupted in flames.
If you’ve ever listened to the DCFD audio from January 13, 1982 you’ve probably heard Steve’s deep, calm voice. That was the snowy afternoon when Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge during rush hour and Metro, the region’s subway system, suffered its first fatal crash. In the video below, I believe you first hear Steve on the radio at about 8:12 after the initial dispatch of the plane crash.
Steve left DC to run Arlington County’s 911 and was its director on September 11, 2001.
After Arlington, Steve’s next stop was Montgomery County’s 911 center. Steve was running that center when the DC snipers terrorized Montgomery County and the region in 2002.
A funny thing happened that shortened Steve’s time in Montgomery County. Steve’s boss, Police Chief Tom Manger, lent Steve to Manger’s former employer, Fairfax County, to help Fairfax County hire its first civilian 911 director after it became a separate county agency (thanks to Michael Fischel for that clarification). As the process went on, Fairfax County officials eventually realized the best candidate for the job was already in the room.
Steve’s leadership has had an impact on the entire National Capital Region (even at the few 911 centers around the Beltway where Steve hasn’t worked). Steve also has a national reputation as an expert in emergency telecommunications. Steve was always my go-to person as a reporter when I wanted to understand the modern realities of 911.
Steve Souder’s work in making sure 911 is the best it can be has saved countless lives. Steve told me at a retirement reception yesterday (Thursday) he’s not through yet and expects he’ll be doing something else constructive in the near future. I have no doubt that whatever it is, Steve Souder will continue to do something that makes the world a better place.