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Those who keep us safe: Linsey Tillotson

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Linsey Tillotson (Photo via Facebook)

A good personality and a little research is all it took to land a job for Vicksburg native Linsey Tillotson at E-911.

“My mom was talking to someone about my personality, and they said, ‘She’d make a great dispatcher.’ I did some research on it, and it really seemed like something that would be up my alley. I knew I wanted to help someone, but not be so hands on,” Tillotson said.

The 29-year old has been a dispatcher at Vicksburg-Warren County E-911 for two years, and in those two years National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which usually falls during the second week of April, has been a special time for all the dispatchers.

“It really shows appreciation for telecommunicators,” Tillotson said. “In the State of Mississippi, we aren’t considered first responders, and in my opinion and a lot of other people’s opinion we’re kinda the first responder. We respond before any other responder.”

This special week makes Tillotson and her colleagues feel valued for the hard work they do day in and day out.

“Not a lot of people think of dispatchers as first responders because it’s not as hectic as other first responders and it’s less hands on, but it’s still a very important job,” she said. “I like this week because it really makes us feel appreciated.”

Telecommunicators Week takes many weeks to coordinate and plan, and in previous celebrations the community rallied around the E-911 dispatchers with restaurant coupons, massage visits, gift cards and more.

“Normally, we go around to restaurants and a lot of local places and ask for donations for Telecommunicators Week,” Tillotson said. “Throughout the week, we raffle the items off and everybody gets something. It just makes us feel good.”

Telecommunicators Week, organized by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, was from April 12 to April 18 this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on the festivities.

“Since coronavirus, we haven’t been able to go out and ask for donations,” Tillotson said. “It’s hard to ask for things when everybody is hurting.”

Neighboring states like Alabama have chosen to postpone Telecommunicators Week.

In a statement released by National Public Safety, a Birmingham, Ala., a 911 supervisor said, “As far as I know it has been postponed, however myself and two other supervisors on my shift have decided to reward our personnel with gifts. Since we are on 12-hour shifts, we are doing something different each day we are at work.”

In Warren County, Tillotson said E-911 Center Director Shane Garrard also delayed the celebration, but celebration or not, Tillotson enjoys her job and always gives it her all.

“I love it,” she said. “You never know what you’re gonna get. It’s very exciting, and there are a few people that called back after something crazy has happened and told my supervisor I did a good job.”

In her two short years, Tillotson has made note of memorable phone calls.  In one incident she was able to talk down a suicidal man over about an hour, but her most memorable moment was when her instructions to a young mom saved a baby’s life.

“I performed CPR over the phone with the mother,” Tillotson said, “and that was amazing. “It was my first time to take control over the situation. I feel like I saved a life over the phone in a way. It was definitely life changing.”

When given the choice, Tillotson would always choose the night shift.

“I love nights,” she said. “I also work at night as a bartender, so I’m a night owl.”

Tillotson said, believe it or not, nights are more calm than people realize.

She likes to look at the people on her shift, not only at E-911 but all the first responders, as a special unit.

“I work with firefighters and the police department, and we are all a team,” Tillotson said. “I’ve only heard they’re voices, but I’ve gotten really close with all of them just by talking to them on the radio.”

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Jay Measells honors his fellow veterans

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Flags lined Mission 66 on Veterans Day. Inset Lt. Jay Measells. (photos by Ashley Sevier and courtesy Jay Measells)

People traveling on Mission 66 in Vicksburg Wednesday may have noticed the many American flags adorning the sidewalks along the shops, salons, and medical offices that populate the busy road.

People traveling the same route the previous night may have seen the man responsible for placing them there.

The man is Dr. Jay Measells, a dentist and owner of Jay Measells DMD. But before he was Dr. Measells, he was Lt. Measells, U.S. Navy, veteran.

In fact, he credits the Navy for helping him become the successful dentist he is today.

Measells joined the military May 16, 2005, during his second year of dental school.

“Military recruiters came by from time to time with the chance to finish dental school without owing a dime in student loans,” he said. “I thought that was a great idea, and I liked the movie ‘Top Gun,’ so I signed on the dotted line.”

Looking back now, he believes it was the greatest decision of his life.

Measells was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

“While there, I had the chance to work with some of the most talented dentists in every specialty,” he said, “and all the while I was treating the selfless and heroic men and women that comprise one branch of the greatest military in the world.”

Measells served during Operation Enduring Freedom, the global war on terrorism the U.S. launched Oct. 7, 2001, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“During that time many of the active duty personnel were deployed multiple times. Some came home injured mentally, physically or both,” he said. “And then there were those who didn’t come home at all.”

Measells said he did little in comparison to many of the brave men and women who served, but he feels honored to have walked beside so many heroes.

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, reminds him of his favorite Bible verse, John 15:13. “Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends”

As for the flags lining Mission 66, Measells said, “It’s just my small way to honor those who have, at one point, written a blank check to this country for an amount up to life.”

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Overton Randolph keeps the fire trucks rolling

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Overton Randolph is conducting the annual fire pump tests last week. (photo by David Day)

You wake up and smell smoke. You quickly walk through the house but can’t find the source, so you grab the kids and call 911. After a few minutes, you can hear the sirens in the distance, but they don’t seem to be getting any closer; the fire truck is broken down.

Overton Randolph’s job is to ensure that such a scenario never happens in Vicksburg. As the mechanic for the Vicksburg Fire Department, his role is to make certain that all in-service fire apparatus are maintained, keeping them in safe operating condition and ready for immediate response.

One of the things he does to keep the fleet operating is pressure testing the pumpers on the trucks.

Overton Randolph prepares to test Engine 8

Last week, Randolph performed annual pressure testing on each truck in the VFD’s fleet. Every truck was tested, including some with the ability to deliver up to 2,000 gallons of water per minute.

The oldest truck in the fleet, Reserve 2, failed its test early in the week. Randolph was able to make repairs, and now the truck actually delivers higher water pressure than it did in its test last year.

Chief Dancyk points out the pressure specs for Engine 8

Randolph has been with the Vicksburg Fire Department for 10 years. He attended Vicksburg High School and is now happily engaged.

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Those who keep us safe: Jeff Merritt

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Jeff Merritt (photo courtesy VPD)

With 27 years in law enforcement, Jeff Merritt comes from a long line of law enforcement officers.

“I had family that worked in Wildlife and Fishery for the state of Louisiana and the local Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Department,” Merrit said. “I’ve just always been around law enforcement.”

Merritt was born in Natchez, but was raised in the tiny town of St. Joseph, Louisiana, in Tensas Parish.

The family traits ran deep in Merritt in his choice to enter law enforcement. He graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, formerly Northeast Louisiana University, with a degree in criminal justice.

“When I graduated, I was doing little odd jobs around Monroe,” Merritt said. “My dad actually came across an ad in the Tensas Parish Newspaper that the Vicksburg Police Department was hiring. I applied and was hired.”

The department hired Merritt in 1993 and appointed him to the Narcotics Division in 1997 where he currently serves as lieutenant. His nearly three-decade career has revolved around one goal.

“I strive to get drugs off the streets,” Merritt said. “I know people think you arrest somebody today, somebody takes their place tomorrow, but you just feel like you’re making it a little better for society each arrest you make.”

One big arrest in Merritt’s career happened in 2015. A group of officers were recognized by the State of Mississippi for a yearlong drug investigation that involved the Vicksburg Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The investigation, which resulted in 23 arrests, netted Merritt the Top Cop award that year, but he stressed that his job can never be done alone.

“You can’t do this by yourself,” he said. “Everything I do, I do with a team. I can’t think of any drug arrest I’ve made that has not had other officers there with me. It’s a team effort, and you’re with your team pretty much more than you are with your family.”

Being away from family in a stressful job could cause some conflict, but Merritt seems to handle the stress well.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I really don’t get stressed at work. The hours we work can interfere with family time, and you can miss out on a lot of things, but stress wise, I don’t think it causes me to be too stressed.”

Merritt went into detail how the hours of his jobs are very unpredictable.

“This past week we worked Monday and Tuesday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then the rest of the week we worked 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” he said.

Merritt has one adult daughter and is engaged. He said his fiance knows and accepts the crazy hours.

He said you have to have passion to be in law enforcement.

“You have to do it because it’s something you really want to do,” he said. “It’s not for the money, and with everything going on across the country these days you have to want to do it and do it the right way.”

Merritt has been nominated more than any other first responder in this story series. His passion and “by the book” mentality has separated him from the rest.

“I just try to do my job and treat everybody the same,” Merritt said. “To me it’s a job. It’s not personal. I do my job. I do it right. I do it fair, and I’m honest to everyone.” 

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