Anne James: Telecoms Operator – Always the calm in the storm
When Anne James was living in her hometown of Bishop’s Falls, her brother was friends with an RCMP member. At the time she was working for the Provincial Government in a department called Job Creation under Employment Insurance. The member told her the RCMP was hiring civilian members for Telecoms.
Anne laughs, “I didn’t know there was such thing as a Civilian Member.” She filled out the application and joined the RCMP in November 1979.
Anne took the years in Telecoms in stride, “I do recall working eight hour shifts by myself and having to go to the bathroom with a portable radio because you were alone when members were on the road.”
It wouldn’t take much to throw a night in telecoms into a tailspin. “If you were busy, all it took to throw a monkey-wrench in the mix was a serious accident and all else would have to wait because you had to call extra members, possibly Ident., ambulance, fire, etc. On top of that, then you had to deal with family members calling and radio calls from other members/detachments. But you pushed through and did your best!”
Telecoms was always an exciting place to be. “I remember one afternoon, we had a call from Corner Brook that a fellow had stolen a vehicle and was being chased on the highway and we were to intercept.” Anne says this was while OCC was operating out of Grand Falls Detachment. “So, members set out to intercept and take over the pursuit from the West Coast members. A trucker had been monitoring the radio traffic and blocked the Bond Bridge hoping to assist us. The vehicle got around the truck and continued heading east on TCH. I believe there was a spot where he almost rammed a Police Vehicle. “
Anne recalls the pursuit continued until Joe McGuire, who was OC of Gander Sub-Division at the time, said ‘to stop him because we are not going to chase him all the way to St. John's.’ The vehicle was eventually stopped somewhere around Lewisporte and the driver was arrested.
She often helped members with their jobs. “While working in Grand Falls -Windsor, I was on my way to work when I just happened to notice a lime-green truck with a cap on it heading east on the TCH. When I got to work, I checked the BOLOs that had been issued the day before and sure enough, there was one for a lime-green pickup. I mentioned this to the Duty NCO Ed Lutz. He took off out the highway and apprehended the driver and passenger. I think this was a case of kidnapping.”
At times, the job of a Telecoms operator can be downright frightening. Anne will never forget the night she was working alone when a call from a barricaded person came in.
“The caller advised that he had a shotgun aimed at his front door and would shoot the first person who came in. I kept him on the line while alerting members from both Clarenville and Glovertown as he was located in a town that bordered the end of one detachment area and the beginning of the other. I was on the phone with this person for at least an hour or more, talking to him and reassuring him that he didn't have to hurt anyone, and no one would hurt him. Eventually, he said someone was at the door and he was going to shoot. I said God no, just let them in, they won't hurt you. Next thing I heard was a member saying thanks, we got him.”
Suicide attempts and threats are a regular thing for Telecoms to deal with but being from the area is a great advantage for an operator. While Anne was in Gander, she had a call from a man from Bishop's Falls who said he was going to make away with himself.
“He told me his name and I asked if he had white hair and glasses. He said he did. I said I know you, you used to do odd jobs for my aunt and uncle who owned a tavern and take-out chicken restaurant years ago. We had a grand chat for about an hour about my aunt and uncle and his children who I knew somewhat. He then thanked me and said he was going to bed. He just wanted someone to talk to.”
Then there are the endless calls from intoxicated persons. While in Grand Falls, Anne had a call from a local man who said he had everything set up to hang himself.
“I said now why would you want to do that? That would be a fine mess for your wife to find when she came home. He replied it would serve her right as she went out and didn't tell him where she was going. Members attended his residence and he was brought to the cells for the night.”
Anne says even though operators dealt with a lot of tragedy and scary situations, there were always fun times too. She laughs when she tells the story of the night she was working midnights in the old Grand Falls Detachment. The dog man just happened to be in the building around two in the morning. At the same time, another member had to do a foot patrol in Windsor and parked his patrol car next to Riffs, which was the usual thing to do.
The dog man asked her for her car keys. She asked, “Why do you want my keys?” He told her, “We’re going to play a trick on the member doing the foot patrol and we’re going to take his car.” They could not take a marked unit because the member would see them driving by. Anne passed over her car keys and the dog man and another member went to Windsor and drove the patrol car back to the detachment.
When the patrol member came back to Riffs and found his car had been stolen, he called Anne at Telecoms and asked to speak to the Corporal. Anne told him the Corporal wasn’t available. He kept requesting to track down the Corporal. Anne asked, “What is the problem?” He finally responded with, “Somebody stole the damn police car.”
The members picked him and brought him back to the detachment where his patrol car was waiting for him. The next night when he got in his patrol car there was big coil of rope on the passenger’s seat. Anne says, “So he could tie the patrol car on and not lose it.”
Another evening while working Telecoms in Grand Falls, Anne received a call from a semi truck driver requesting members attend as he had hit and killed two moose! “After asking if he ok. I then asked, two moose? He laughed and said he was so busy watching the one on the side of the road that he didn’t see the two that were standing in the middle of the road.”
Anne was on shift in January 1983 when heavy rainfall, combined with an unusually warm spell, resulted in the worst case of flood damage in the province that has been documented. Between January 12-14, rainfall exceeding 200 mm fell. The impacts were greatest within the Exploits River valley, particularly at Bishop's Falls.
About ten o’clock that night, Anne received a call from a CN bus driver who told her, “I don’t know what’s going on with the Bonne Bridge, but there’s water coming over it.” Anne alerted the members and sent them to investigate. This natural disaster created unprecedented flood damages, amounting to over $33 million.
Anne also worked Telecoms on the morning of Thursday, December 12th, 1985 when shortly after takeoff from Gander on route to Fort Campbell, Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed killing all 248 passengers and 8 crew members on board. It is the deadliest aviation accident to occur on Canadian soil.
“I received a call about three or four o’clock in the morning,” Anne remembers, “It was one of the guys at the airport. He told me to call all the hospital and put them on alert for incoming victims. He called an hour later and told me to call the hospitals back and tell them to stand down but send as many body bags as they have.” Anne was supposed to end her shift at eight in the morning but ended up working until afternoon because the volume of calls was so high.
In 1997, Anne started a new career in the RCMP when she transferred to Special Investigations and became an intelligence monitor analyst.
“When I started in Telecoms, we were required to have a hearing test every two years, so when I went to Special "I", I started hearing tests for the Intelligence Monitors Analysts and this eventually went across the country and is now part of the hiring process.”
Anne became a subject matter expert on the development of the Court Testimony program for Intelligence Monitor Analysts. This course is still on Agora, the RCMP training program, and is used to prepare intelligence monitor analysts and new members to testify before the courts.
Before joining the RCMP, Anne was one of the first female Air Cadet officers in Canada when she joined 512 Exploits Squadron. “At that time,” she explains, “Girls were aloud to join cadets but only if there was a female officer. So, I joined to allow girls to become air cadets.”
Anne eventually went on to become the first female commanding officer for 512 Exploits Squadron.
Anne retired in November 2014 with 30 years service. She now lives in St. John’s with her husband Jeff, who is retired from the American Military.
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