The Emergency Lady

For 31 years, KPD dispatcher Kathleen Langtad has responded to Frantic Callers with calm reason, whether in the midst of hurricane Iniki or helping to deliver a baby over the phone

If you’ve called KPD with any kind of emergency in the past 31 years there’s a good chance you spoke with Kathleen Langtad. Known as ‘the colonel,’ she’s retiring soon and the county needs to fill her position and several other openings in dispatch

It’s not the kind of job that gets a “thank you” at the end of the day.

In fact, emergency dispatchers such as Kathleen Langtad – a veteran of the Kaua’i Police Department who has served Garden Island residents for 31 years – rarely know how the story ends for those who have called in for help.

But that’s OK, Langtad says. The real reward comes from within.

“I enjoy what I’m doing and knowing when I go home that I did my job to help save lives as well as keep the officers safe,” she says.

Now that Langtad is looking to retire, she will be leaving some large shoes to fill.

“The ‘colonel,’ as we affectionately know her, is as dependable as the Rock of Gibraltar, and her legacy will forever be ingrained in those who follow in her footsteps,” KPD Chief Darryl Perry says.

“Words cannot express the gratitude and deep appreciation for everything that she has done, and the sacrifices she has made for our community and the Kaua’i Police Department.”

Helping others selflessly has been Langtad’s calling since she can remember. When she was a child, she knew she wanted to help others.

“I actually wanted to be a nun,” she says.

Though she didn’t end up in a convent, Langtad has been heaven-sent for many in their moment of need – be it a distraught caller whose father is having a heart attack or whose wife is in labor, she’s been the answer to calls for help.

“Usually the caller is panicking and you have to try to calm them,” Langtad says. In instances when she needs to guide the caller through a procedure or crisis, Langtad says she relies on a “flip chart,” like the one she used to help a woman deliver a baby at home.

Having also been on the answering end of hostage crises and shootings, Langtad has seen her share of emergencies and exercised more than her share of patience.

Among the most intense of call days were during hurricanes Iwa and Iniki, she says, when her husband drove her to work in flood conditions with downed utility poles.

“It was very hectic,” she says. “You are here working, you are sounding the sirens, and you don’t even know what is happening to your family at home.”

She also was fielding calls that weren’t emergency-related, Langtad adds, operating the only phones through which people could reach a live person.

“A lot of lines were down during the hurricanes, so we had a lot of calls from people off-island wanting to know how their family was,” she says. “Some even were checking to see if their buildings or homes weren’t damaged.” Though answering those kinds of queries aren’t within the job description of dispatchers (and can tie up the lines for those calling with real emergencies) Langtad says she still tried to be helpful.

“We try to be courteous, but we also explain that we don’t even know whether the families of officers on-duty are OK,” she says.

Remaining polite and calm throughout the day is key, as is multitasking – being a dispatcher entails monitoring several screens, and acting as liaison between anxious, often terrified callers and first responders.

“The calls we are receiving are from people who are extremely upset and feel that their call is the only call that is of priority,” Langtad says. “All of our calls are from people who want help. People don’t realize that there is more going on in the center at the time of their call, and that all calls both incoming and outgoing are recorded.”

One of her favorite aspects of being a dispatcher on Kaua’i is that sense of a small community, she says.

“I have been to other dispatch centers and basically most are much larger than ours, but the conditions are basically the same. What is nice here is that our community is small and you basically know most everyone. We have a unique spirit of aloha on Kaua’i,” says Langtad, who gives credit to Sam Bukoski (now retired), who trained her in 1982.

It’s that kind of small-town feeling that Langtad grew up with in Pineapple Camp in Kalaheo.

“My dad was a ‘Luna foreman,’ and everyone knew everyone,” she says. “It was a family community.”

That sense of family resonates within KPD, too.

“I thank God every day for giving me a new day, a good job and knowing that every day is a new day in dispatch,” she says. “You never know what will happen.”

Langtad is hoping to find some candidates to join her team of dispatchers, as currently there are three working in a department with five vacancies.

“It’s a very rewarding career,” she says. “We are looking for people who want to work, want to help people and are willing to multitask and learn. It’s not a job you can study for, but we have a six-week classroom training and another eight weeks of on-the-job-training, where you are assigned to a dispatch training officer who sits side-by-side and trains you.”

The position does take a special kind of someone, according to assistant chief Roy Asher.

“Being a good dispatcher requires a unique set of qualities, including the ability to remain calm while maintaining a sense of urgency – and Kathleen is one of the best in the business. She has served Kaua’i Police Department and the community for decades, and in that time she’s helped countless people and taught numerous up-and-coming dispatchers to do the same,” he says.

“Dispatching is the crucial first step in the emergency-response process, and our dispatchers do an incredible job under Col. Langtad’s direction.”

When she isn’t at work, Langtad works with youths as a volunteer cubmaster with Cub Scout Pack 168, and helps with a “Good Turn” action project, in which she has put some 3,500 flowers on graves in the Lihu’e area.

Langtad got a taste for the Cub Scouts raising her three sons, Destry, 46, Jason, 44, and Wesley, 42. Any other free time goes to enjoying her six grandchildren and great-grandchild: Khelsie, 25, Jaslyn and Joslyn, 12, Kaylee, 11, Taylor, 6, Hunter, 2, and great-grandson Tech, 3.