CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Ed Hunt is living proof that even a desk job in law enforcement can be dangerous.
“I’ve been bitten, punched, kicked, and so were all the old cops,” said the 61-year-old clerk and former dispatcher for the Cape Elizabeth Police Department.
Hunt is nearing a major milestone in his career: at the end of this year, he will hit his 40th anniversary with the department. On Aug. 15, Hunt was one of 17 municipal employees recognized for their lengthy tenures, but no one in Cape Elizabeth can claim as many years on the job as Hunt. To acknowledge his impending 40th anniversary, Hunt received a gold watch from the town.
“He is the longest serving municipal employee ever,” Town Manager Michael McGovern said.
Hunt’s 40-year career began in December 1973. At the time, he worked at Service Merchandise, a now-defunct retailer. At night, Hunt worked alongside officers from the Cape Elizabeth Police Department who served as security guards at the store. One of the officers told Hunt about a job opening at the department for a dispatcher.
“I applied, passed a test and the rest is history,” he said this week.
The town was different back then. Cape Elizabeth may now be perceived as a haven for the wealthy elite, but in the early 1970s, there was a wide range of economic backgrounds represented, Hunt said.
The town was wilder — a little edgier, he said.
It was an exciting time for Hunt, who was 21 years old when he started dispatching. The serious responsibility of answering crisis calls and directing police and fire personnel to accidents, fires or crimes was thrilling, he said.
“I looked forward to every day of work,” Hunt recalled. “I was on a constant adrenaline rush. Every day was completely different and you never knew what to expect.”
Sometimes after his shifts ended, Hunt would go on ride-alongs while officers broke up underage drinking parties or arrested rabble rousers.
“If you worked with certain guys, you knew you’d be busy,” he said. “When you’re young, you look forward to that stuff. ‘Bring the rowdies in. Let’s lock ‘em up.'”
Technology has changed significantly since the early ’70s, too.
In the days before pagers and cellphones, Hunt would dispatch firefighters through the fire whistle, which was audible throughout the town. The whistle would blow a series of notes, and the number of notes would correspond with the numbers on particular alarm boxes. Volunteer firefighters would carry cheat sheets that would let them know where the boxes were located.
“They could look at their cards and say, ‘Box 1732, that’s at the high school,'” Hunt said.
In the days before computers, when police officers relayed license plate numbers to the dispatchers, Hunt would have to look up the numbers in stacks of giant state-provided ledgers that contained lists of all license plates in Maine. The state also sent out monthly lists of all drivers with suspended or revoked licenses.
Surprisingly, Hunt said he doesn’t remember any noteworthy calls during his decades of dispatching. He vaguely remembers the fire that destroyed Cottage Farm School. He remembers that there was one murder in Cape Elizabeth during his career, but Hunt wasn’t working when the call came in. Beyond that, he draws a blank.
“It’s all just a blur,” he said. “You get so used to it after a while that nothing is surprising anymore. All the calls seem the same.”
In 2009, the town consolidated its dispatch services with Portland, and the dispatchers in Cape Elizabeth were laid off. Hunt, however, was offered a desk clerk position at the police station.
“Technically, I was laid off for about eight hours,” he said. “But I came back the very next day.”
Chief Neil Williams said the department was lucky to keep Hunt during that transition.
“He’s one of the best employees the town has,” Williams said. “He’s always here early and stays late. He’s just a great employee.”
Hunt, who is married and has two adult children, said he plans to continue his work at the department.
“As long as the job is here, I hope to stay,” he said. “We’ll see what the future brings.”