Devon Clary is a hometown girl who not only made good but is doing good in her community.

She’s one of the many talented “first” first responders whose dedication and professionalism often goes unrecognized because they are the calm yet unseen voice on the other end of the telephone line during stressful, sometimes life threatening situations.

Devon, who is director of emergency communications for the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, grew up in Gasburg, Va. She’s the daughter of community activists - Beryl Clary, who retired after 26 years as a relief postmaster, and the late Tom Clary, who was owner of Clary’s Garage, in Gasburg.

Devon leads a team of 11 full-time and three part-time staff members who answered 45,060 calls for service, including nearly 7,900 calls for 911 assistance, in 2019. The county also implemented Next Generation 911, transitioning 911 call handling from analog to internet based services in 2019. The new network also allows call data to be transferred to other jurisdictions and text to 911 capabilities.

She is one of the many 911 telecommunicators working with the Lake Gaston (LKG) Community 911 Task Force to improve 911 services and educate residents to save lives and make the lake safer.

The task force urges all lake residents to take steps to improve emergency response, including posting house numbers and knowing CPR to help their family member in need prior to the arrival of an ambulance. House numbers should be 3-4 inches high, reflective, and 4-7 feet off the ground on both sides of the mailbox or house marker.

Devon’s clear thinking and commitment to her community and profession have earned her many accolades.

“Devon is such an amazing lady. She cares about people and she cares about her job,” said Sherry Herzing, director of the LKG 911 Task Force. “All she wants to do is save lives. She’s been such a beautiful addition to the task force, along with the other E911 supervisors.”

Brunswick Sheriff Brian Roberts adds: “I have known Devon my entire life. She is a real leader and visionary in the EMS (emergency services) world. She is also profoundly known for her work in the volunteer world. She is just an amazing person.”

We recently asked Devon to tell us more about herself and her work in Brunswick County. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born and raised in Gasburg, VA and have lived in Brunswick County my entire life. I was 19 years old when I joined the squad as a volunteer just out of high school, right before I began my college career. My parents’ encouragement and support to be involved in the rescue squad and to continue my education post high school paved the way for each experience I’ve had in the last 20-plus years in this field.

My volunteer work supported me in becoming the first female paramedic in Brunswick County. I’m also a critical care paramedic and have a master’s degree from East Carolina University in Vocational Education. I held several leadership roles in the rescue squad and had a passion for grant writing to obtain much needed funding for equipment to enhance our service to the community.

Professionally, I’ve worked in the community college setting for a federal TRIO program and as an adjunct faculty member teaching topics from basic computer skills to all levels of EMS from Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) to paramedic. In addition, I spent eight years as the Regional Business Development Manager for the VCU LifeEvac bases in Virginia.

What can you tell me about your current position?

In the mid-2000s, Brunswick County identified the need for someone to lead the dispatch center and work with the Sheriff to take the communications center into the future of the Enhanced 911 (E911) project. They asked me if I was interested as I met all the requirements except having actual experience as a dispatcher. To get the necessary experience, I accepted a position as a telecommunicator with the Richmond Ambulance Authority where I received awesome training in a EMS dispatch center managing over 50,000 calls per year (at that time).

When the E911 coordinator position became available, I was fortunate enough to become the first E911 Coordinator for Brunswick County in October 2005. I applied because the need was real for the community and I was excited about the challenge to serve our community in a professional capacity. My experiences as a volunteer also allowed me to have relationships established that were needed to meet the goals of the position.

How does technology impact what you do?

We are blessed that our sheriff, Brian Roberts, remains a visionary and huge proponent for utilizing technology to its maximum potential to serve our citizens. For a small, rural county we continue to find creative solutions to introduce and upgrade our existing technology to provide our employees the tools needed to provide the highest level of service possible.

In recent years, through Sheriff Roberts’ leadership and vision, support from many grant sources and with local support, the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office implemented or upgraded the following: emergency communications radio system, computer aided dispatch (CAD) program, records management system (RMS), mobile data terminals (MDTs) in all police cars with automated vehicle locator (AVL) capability, body worn cameras, in car cameras, phone system, RapidSOS, and text to 911. Our office continues to work on a Next Generation 911 (NG911) project, which is a nationwide and statewide initiative to enhance 911 services locally and throughout our country.

What do you want citizens to know about 911 services?

Professionals answering the phone are highly skilled and professionally trained. If the telecommunicator is asking for verification for things such as location and telephone number, this is a part of ensuring that the correct help is being sent to the correct place. It also ensures that the caller can be reached if there is a need for a callback and/or if the call gets disconnected. Additional questions are asked to prepare responders to help the person prior to their arrival on scene and then keep the responders safe during the entire call for service.

All fire departments in Brunswick County are staffed with volunteers. Rescue squads in Brunswick County are both volunteers and career providers. This means that when an emergency call is received, oftentimes members have to respond to the station from their home or job before they can respond to the emergency.

Deputies are always staffed in our county; however, as with all public safety agencies, response delays can occur due to multiple calls occurring at the same time and limited resources available to respond to the calls.

How has COVID impacted your service role?

Our office began taking appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020. We secured grant funding of $50,000 to convert our existing mobile command trailer to a mobile communications center to serve as a backup for continuity of operations and to be prepared for potential staffing and decontamination needs. Our operation and level of service have continued without fail and our team members continue to remain focused on their goals while performing call taking a bit differently to ensure responder safety as it relates to COVID 19.

What have been your best and worst days on the job?

Every day when our responders go home safely to their families while serving our citizens is a “best day.” We are humbled to have a skillset to help many people on their worst day and this is a normal day for us.

With all that your job requires of you, what motivates you to do what you do?

Serving our community and our partners motivates me every day. No day is ever the same and unique challenges are always present in our profession. There is no greater joy than working with some of the best people in the business to learn and grow while serving others.

If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you improve?

I believe public education surrounding the role of telecommunicators as the “first” first responder in the chain of survival within the public safety arena is the one thing I would improve. Ensuring that telecommunicators receive the same benefits as other first responders, such as mental health assistance and retirement, to name a few, are so important to continue to advance the profession and support those in the trenches each day.