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When Kenneth Elliot began working as a cardiac technician at the Tabb Fire Station in York County more than 30 years ago, the 911 emergency telephone line service did not yet exist.
Elliot, who received a commendation from the Board of Supervisors upon his retirement in October, saw much change over the course of his three decades of service to the county.
A shift midway through his career – from working for the Department of Fire and Life Safety to working for the Department of Computer Support Services – gave Elliot a unique vantage point from which to observe two rapidly changing fronts at the turn of the century.
The advances he witnessed in both safety standards and technological capabilities defined his career in many ways, but Elliot says he never could have anticipated his professional trajectory.
When Elliot was 5 years old, his father was killed in the Vietnam War. As he grew to understand his father’s sacrifice through service, he was inspired to spend his life helping others.
Through summer internships at the Wythe station in Hampton, Elliot got a taste of life at a fire station. Though his basic fire and medical training led to a job as a cardiac technician in a Hampton emergency room, he decided to enroll in the Fire Academy.
Upon graduation, he received job offers for fire stations in Hampton but had his eye on working for York County.
“I had three job offers, but York was growing, and there was great potential for more growth,” said Elliot, who eventually accepted an offer from York County in September 1985.
While on the job, he continually sought out various certifications to help him become better equipped to serve York County citizens. He completed courses to receive certifications as a paramedic, dive rescue and fire officer.
“A lot of calls that come through, for that person it’s the worst call they’ll make in their life. I tried to get the best training for myself and my coworkers that I could,” said Elliot, who also developed a book for the family members of those in crisis that compiled information about the various accommodations available to them during their stressful time.
Elliot’s passion for seeking out additional training and certifications did not go unnoticed; he was promoted to captain and EMS supervisor in 1991. He was responsible for overseeing all emergency medical services personnel in the county – no small feat in a department that was, as he had predicted, rapidly expanding.
“From one end of the county to the other, any major or life-threatening incident, I was there supervising,” Elliot said.
Upon his promotion to captain, Elliot sought numerous technology and computer-related certifications. His expertise in this area led to a project in which he was to develop a network for patient and fire reporting software. It was during this project he was recruited to work for the county in its Computer Support Services in 1998.
As part of the new Computer Support Services department, Elliot tackled meshing the fire department’s computer network with the new county-generated network. Once that project was complete he began going to other departments and working to integrate their systems into the larger one.
The switch came at a precipitous time for Elliot, who was longing for the kind of stability and regular hours that life in emergency services could not provide.
“I had a small child, and there were many nights I was still out at two in the morning,” Elliot said. “There wasn’t a weekend I wasn’t gone at least one night.”
Despite the switch, Elliot was active in several regional and statewide special task forces. Most notably, Elliot worked with the Virginia Beach-based FEMA Team Virginia Task Force II. He was one of five York County employees on the team, which was on call for any disasters to which FEMA responded around the country and world.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., his team was called upon for search and rescue assistance.
Elliot spent nine days at the Pentagon working with the ATF and FBI on documenting evidence and going through photographs of the scene – a job for which he was doubly qualified based on his EMS training and computer networking skills.
“No real words can tell you the whole story [of that experience]. I was very proud to respond to that with the team,” Elliot said. “It was pretty big from an emotional perspective.”
He returned to Computer Support Services, where he finished out his career, and worked closely with every department in the county. In both emergency services and computer networking, he saw firsthand how quickly the county was growing and the rapid pace at which the technological world was changing.
“When I started with the fire service we didn’t have seat belts or air bags like we do today, so when you had an accident it was pretty traumatic,” Elliot said. “A lot of stuff is not as severe as it used to be.”
Though the severity of accidents was on the decline, the frequency was on the upswing due to growth and population increases in the county.
The rise of cell phones in the first decade of the 21st century also changed the landscape of emergency services. If a car crash happened in a rural part of the county at the beginning of Elliot’s career, a bystander would often have to travel a significant distance find a house or business, borrow a phone and call for help.
“When I first came to the county, the 911 system didn’t exist. You just called a regular phone line,” Elliot said. “Now everyone has cell phones, and you can even just text 911. It makes it a lot more accurate.”
Elliot saw his passions for emergency services and technology couple to their mutual benefit many times during the latter part of his career. He also spent much of his time on the more mundane but equally important responsibilities of an IT guy – completing repairs, tweaks and upgrades for all the offices around the county.
“My proudest accomplishments were the times I got to see the final result of different projects I worked on,” Elliot said. “There was not as much exciting with Computer Support Services, but it was just as rewarding.”
As for his decision to retire, Elliot felt like 30 years of work was both a proud accomplishment and a good place to stop.
“Things are so different today,” Elliot said. “I want to give somebody new a shot, someone with different thoughts and who can look at things differently than I do. Somebody else can come along and change the things I’ve done and make them better. That’s what technology is all about.”
Elliot is also looking forward to diving into major projects around his home that he put off and spending more time with his family. He is certain that whatever he ends up taking on as his next project, he will keep busy one way or another.
“I did a good thirty years, and I think I served the community well,” Elliot said. “Now I just want to enjoy it.”