Dispatcher Julie Dean embodies calm under pressure time and time again

Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch worker lands ‘Magnet’ nickname from colleagues

Julie Dean, a dispatcher for the Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch Center poses for a photo on Monday, April 15, 2024 in Peru. Dean is a 30-year veteran in the dispatch field.

Julie Dean was on duty when Crafters Village caught fire. And when arsonists set fire to the Westclox building. And last year during the Carus Chemical explosion, too.

There have been enough catastrophes while Dean was relaying the emergency dispatches that co-workers have taken to calling her “the Magnet.” Fires and explosions are magnetically drawn to the longtime dispatcher, who currently is with Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch.

“It was just another day,” Dean said, laughing off her nickname. “I love helping people. I’m there for them when they’re having the worst day of their life. I’m helping them out.”

First responders, in turn, are grateful whenever it’s Dean wearing the headset on their worst days. Calm and composed telecommunicators are prized, and Dean is among the most respected.

“There are people who lead vocally, and there are people who lead by example,” said Adam Curran, Spring Valley police chief. “Which best describes Julie Dean? I think Julie leads by an example. Her work ethic, attention to detail and her attitude show her colleagues how to act professionally in every incident no matter big or small.”

One of the shorter stops during her 23 years in emergency dispatch was at BueComm in Princeton. Although she wasn’t there long, she made a lasting impression on then-Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson.

“She was a very good dispatcher. On top of her emotions and the scenario, [she’s] always concerned about her officers and the public,” Thompson said.

Julie Dean, a dispatcher for the Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch, works at her desk on Monday, April 15, 2024, in Peru. Dean is a highly-regarded veteran in the dispatch field.

We are all lucky that people like Julie are willing to work in such a hard profession and be so good at it.”

—  Doug Bernabei, Peru Police Department

Doug Bernabei shared that view. While serving as Spring Valley police chief, he hired Dean as a dispatcher in 2003. She moved in 2005 to the Peru Police Department, where Bernabei became chief a year later. In 2016, Dean transitioned to Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch.

“I have known Julie Dean for decades now, going back to our days of both being EMTs on a volunteer ambulance service,” Bernabei said. “She was then and still is today a very special person who has been committed to serving the public for her entire adult life.”

Dennis and Nancy Bowen might have puzzled a bit if told their younger daughter would one day work for a police department – nobody in the family had any law enforcement background, although Nancy worked as a part-time crossing guard to get her four children safely to Peru public schools.

It was, however, no great surprise when Julie Bowen joined 10-33 Ambulance in Spring Valley after graduating from La Salle-Peru High School in 1989. Julie had dreamed of becoming a nurse, and to become an EMT seemed a logical first step. She studied at Illinois Valley Community College and became a dialysis technician.

Nursing, however, would take a back seat to marriage and family. Dean was on duty with 10-33 at the DePue boat races when an officer on foot patrol accidentally cut himself and approached 10-33 for a bandage.

“I just washed him up, covered him up, and told him to keep it dry,” Dean recalled.

Their chemistry was instantaneous.

“He is the love of my life,” she said. “He’s very kind and patient.”

The Deans settled in DePue, and Julie worked largely from home raising their daughter, Kayla. Julie continued volunteering with 10-33 but otherwise declined full-time work to cheer on Kayla at Hall High School, where she excelled in volleyball.

“It was important for me to be there for her,” Dean said.

One night, however, Randy came home and told her about an opening at BueComm. Thompson was looking for a dispatcher, and Randy had privately identified a strong candidate for the post.

“I think you really can do this,” Randy said.

The candidate, however, was not easily persuaded.

“Uh, no,” Julie replied immediately. “That’s not for me.”

“You sit at a desk all day and you answer the phone,” Dean remembered thinking. “I’m just not very good on the phone.”

Randy would be proved right, although not quickly.

Dean said it was “a good year or so” working part-time before she discovered she not only was comfortable with working with the stricken and panicked, but also good at it. When she transitioned from Spring Valley to Peru, the call volume grew significantly higher – and she flourished.

“Boy, you really know me,” she later admitted to Randy. “You knew that I needed a change, and this is the change that I needed.”

And despite all the teasing in the IVRD break room, “the Magnet” would attract not only catastrophes but professional honors.

The Carus explosion brought IVRD a “Team of the Year” award by the Illinois chapter of the National Emergency Association. Dean and two comrades, Rachel Sienkiewicz and Carlie Brockman, were honored at the Illinois Public Safety Telecommunications Association conference in Springfield.

Dean’s distinguished career might be winding down. She and Randy are closing in on the quarter-century marks of their careers and have discussed retirement, not least to spend more time with Kayla’s twin sons. They’ve discussed buying a camper to explore the continental U.S.

That’s the plan, anyway. Randy also works for Ladd and Spring Valley, and his better half isn’t convinced he’ll eagerly relinquish his part-time posts.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to get my husband away from any kind of work,” Dean said, “because he’s always on the go.”

Bernabei, for one, is quietly rooting for Randy to forestall retirement, if only to keep Julie available to those in need.

“Julie has many great attributes,” Bernabei said. “One of the many that stand out is her willingness to be a team player and, most admirably, the respect and empathy she shows people on the other end of a 911 call. We are all lucky that people like Julie are willing to work in such a hard profession and be so good at it.”

Julie Dean, a dispatcher for the Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch Center, poses for a photo on Monday, April 15, 2024, in Peru.
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