Head of Santa Fe County dispatch retiring in June
The head of Santa Fe County’s regional dispatch center is retiring at the end of June after leading the agency for about a dozen years and spending nearly three decades in a public safety career.
Ken Martinez, 50, said with two children in college and another starting high school, it felt like time for him to step down from his position as director of the Santa Fe Regional Emergency Communications Center, which handles all calls for police, fire, medical and animal control services in the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County.
“It’s time for me to retire and pursue other avenues,” Martinez said in a recent interview.
He praised the fire and police chiefs and county sheriffs with whom he has worked over the years, and said he plans to transition into working for a local real estate firm.
A replacement for Martinez has not yet been named, and Martinez said he is still in discussions with county officials about staying on a little longer, if needed.
City Councilor Chris Rivera, chairman of the City Council Public Safety Committee, said he has known Martinez since Rivera served as Santa Fe fire chief a decade ago.
“I just want to wish him well,” Rivera said. “I think that he’s done a great job in a tough place, and I think he’s going to be missed.”
Martinez, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, began his career in public safety as a 20-year-old dispatcher for the state General Services Department, facilitating communications with staff at the Game and Fish Department, State Forestry Division, Motor Vehicle Division and Office of the Medical Investigator. He left the General Services Department eight years later as director of the dispatch center.
He went on to work on the statewide radio and voicemail system for New Mexico and, following a stint with the Taxation and Revenue Department, became the Regional Emergency Communications Center manager in 2006 and its director at the end of 2007.
Along the way, emergency dispatching became a calling for Martinez, a career that he described as a vital but often overlooked facet of law enforcement.
“I was 20 years old and looking for a path, and I happened to fall into it,” Martinez said. “Once you do it, it’s in your blood.”
An ongoing challenge for dispatch centers is retaining staff, who work long, stressful hours at offices that operate 24/7, 365 days per year, fielding calls from “people who are going through possibly the worst time of their life,” Martinez said.
“It is very stressful, but it is also pretty rewarding when you help people in the community,” he said.
The local dispatch center went from a staff of 48 when Martinez began as director to 52 today, including 44 full-time dispatchers and eight administrative support staff.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, according to Martinez, is simply being recognized, alongside police, fire and other first responders. Dispatchers have to graduate from the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy and also need to be licensed through the state Department of Health’s Emergency Medical Systems Bureau to be able to give medical instructions to 911 callers before paramedics arrive.
“Those who do stick it out, we owe them a debt of gratitude,” Martinez said, adding, “911 never sleeps. They miss their holidays, their weekends, their nights. Those who do it, do it well and deserve our praise.”
The dispatch center has a lot of work ahead of it.
Martinez said he successfully lobbied state legislators to increase funding for New Mexico’s 911 services, and led an effort to get the local center nationally accredited in 2012.
But modernizing technology is crucial, he said.
The center now has technology that allows dispatchers to initiate text conversations with callers who are unable to speak. It is working to implement technology that would allow officers and paramedics at an emergency scene to stream video to the dispatch center, and it plans to upgrade the center’s computer-aided dispatch and two-way radio systems.
“The stepping stones, the foundations, are being built right now,” Martinez said.