By Brandon Martin
Virgil “JR” Powell, director of the Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center, was presented the 2019 Governor’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS Telecommunication at the 40th Annual Governor’s EMS Awards ceremony in Norfolk.
The award recognizes outstanding EMS providers and organizations from across the Commonwealth for their demonstrated level of excellence and dedication to the EMS system.
Presented in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Office of Emergency Medical Services’ Annual EMS Symposium, the awards ceremony caps off the week-long training event. The largest EMS training event in the Commonwealth and one of the largest in the nation, this year’s symposium welcomed more than 1,700 participants. The symposium offers each participant the opportunity to earn up to 26 hours of continuing education credits for recertification as an EMS provider via more than 400 class sessions.
When asked about the award, Powell attributed his success at the Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center “first of all from the blessings of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without him I am nothing. Hard work, dedication, reliability, and being ready to jump in where and when needed” also have helped propel him to excel. “This is a job of thinking on your toes where seconds can be the difference in life or death.”
After graduating Martinsville High School in 1989, Powell joined the United States Marine Corps (USMC) for six years, serving in both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Following his time in service, Powell found out that life can sometimes throw you a curveball.
“Following my six years serving in the USMC, I returned home to Martinsville along with my wife and our two children,” he explained. “I was initially interested in law enforcement. While waiting to hear back from local law enforcement agencies, I learned of a position open as a 911 dispatcher in the local Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center. I applied and was interviewed by (then) 911 Director Henry Gilbert. I remember Mr. Gilbert calling me on the phone and said he had read a Letter of Recommendation that had been prepared by my USMC commanding officer. He stated ‘I don’t know who you are or anything about you but after reading this letter of recommendation, I’ve got to at least meet you.'”
After being hired in 1995 as a 911 dispatcher, he was promoted to Assistant Shift Supervisor in 1998, Operations Supervisor in 2000, and finally to his current position in 2012.
“When I started this career in 1995, it didn’t take long for me to realize I really enjoyed being the calm voice on the phone and/or radio helping our citizens and responders in the field,” he said.
Even though he has made it to the top, Powell knows that his accomplishments are part of a team effort.
“Our team here at Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center is 26 strong,” he said. “All of our team are Emergency Medical Dispatchers (EMDs). We have all received training to provide lifesaving pre-arrival instructions over the 911 line until EMS help arrives on scene. We began EMD in 2012 and without any doubt, it has made the difference to many citizens calling with life threatening EMS emergencies.”
Powell said that his team is the driving force in the public safety process for the city and county. They process thousands of emergency calls each year, dispatching police, fire and EMS units. They also keep track of all emergencies and routine police work for Martinsville and for Henry County.
“They perform a job where they are seldom recognized or mentioned for what they do to help our citizens and the agencies we serve,” he said. “But that is part of the job. We don’t do it for fame or to be recognized. We do it because we love serving our citizens and helping people in their time of crisis.”
While Powell said he appreciated the award, he also noted that there is plenty about the job that makes it all worthwhile.
“There are several things I truly enjoy about being a part of our 911 team,” he said. “I truly enjoy serving beside all 26 of our team members, providing lifesaving services to our citizens and all the police, fire and EMS agencies we serve. My 25 years here at Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center have been rewarding in many ways and I am thankful for the opportunities I have been blessed with.”