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State Police Dispatcher Signs Off After 29 Years Working "Hard Gig"

The average span of an emergency dispatcher’s career is only 3 - 5 years.  Carol Keeler retires on Thursday, June 30, with 29 years served with the Michigan State Police and another five with a different agency.

photo of carol keeler

The job she has performed for over three decades is critical to public safety. A dispatcher is literally THE lifeline for police officers and citizens, during some calls.

“If you asked me five years ago if I thought I had saved lives? The answer was no,” said Keeler. “Looking back now, I realize I have. I’ve talked down suicidal men and women, explained CPR over the phone, and been able to get helpful resources to people. I feel like I have done good.”

Keeler could not have predicted this was going to be her career. She began with the MSP at the Detroit Regional Communication Center and has been working at the Lansing Regional Communication Center for her final few years.

“I blame my brother,” she joked. “I only interviewed to get him off my back. I was living at home, and I needed a job.”

Things have a way of working out. Keeler will tell you she hasn’t made dispatching her identity as some people do and for her that’s been the key to enjoying life despite the tough days, which are filled with headsets, computer screens and telephones. She is a great communicator and even better listener – two skills you must embody to make it past day one.

“Carol has managed to navigate the physical, mental and emotional challenges of an ever-changing profession for a long time and that is worthy of celebration,” said Jon Whitford, Regional Communication Centers Unit Manager. “To remain in a profession seven times beyond the national average burnout time is nothing short of remarkable.”

photo of Carol Keeler

The tough days, like the first time Keeler handled a call involving a dead child, are thankfully becoming harder to recall as she prepares to sign off for the last time.

“My fellow dispatchers saved me on more than one occasion because you can vent to them. Sometimes we played games together,” she said. “Years ago, we played Hacky Sack and the ball got stuck inside someone’s glasses. She left it there. It took our sergeant hours to notice it. We laughed until we cried.”

She described some of the funny questions she’s received while answering 911 calls, including a caller who wanted to know if Iowa was closed and countless families dialing 911 on holidays before the internet was popular to settle debates.

“So many people would get into disagreements at the dinner table about the name of someone or something like Michigan’s state bird. They assumed we had all the answers about everything.”

The question Keeler, now 60, gets most often is ‘what’s next?’

“I haven’t even thought that far in advance,” she said. “But the idea of not working is odd to me so we’ll see what happens.”

For those wondering if a career in dispatching is for them, Keeler offers this advice – be patient with yourself. It is an awesome opportunity if you approach it as such. You are making an impact on lives and developing skills that will carry you as far as you let them.

“Look for guidance and ask for help. If I can do it, so can you.”

Whitford added, “Like other areas of law enforcement, we’re having a difficult time recruiting and retaining employees. I can tell you from experience, this is a rewarding career personally and professionally. At the heart of it, we are listening and talking to people and hopefully helping them through something.”

For more information about the application and hiring process for emergency dispatchers, send an email to