This video features three of my friends. The reporter, Monika Samtani and the two guys who were interviewed by Monika, Steve Souder and Bill Mould, are all people I have known for a long time and have a great deal of respect for. The story is about Steve, who happened to be working his first shift on the radio for DCFD when rioting broke out in the Nation's Capital after the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Steve, whose voice can be heard in the DCFD audio we posted on Friday of the Air Florida Flight 90 crash, is now the 911 director for Fairfax County, Virginia after holding similar jobs in Montgomery County, Maryland and Arlington County, Virginia.
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination triggered widespread violent protests across the nation, including the infamous DC riots.
One man's ability to manage multiple emergency calls were put to the test while the Capital city burned on that historic night in 1968.
A mere few hours into his first day on the job as a radio dispatcher, D.C. was going up in flames and Steve Souder was in charge of making life or death decisions.
"April 4, 1968 is indelibly etched in my mind because it was the day which Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee," shared Souder.
News spread quickly that evening. Grief and rage followed and within hours crowds gathered in DC at the intersection of 14th and U streets Northwest, near the McMillan Drive dispatch center, where Souder was posted.
"The anguish across the nation and particularly in the nation's capital was so great that the city was afire from one side of the city to the other side — Southeast, Northeast, Northwest, and Southwest – and I was on my first day on the radio on that particular event," remembered Souder.
For the next three days, hundreds of fires erupted, forcing the fire department of the District of Columbia into Plan "F" for full mobilization. In 1968, crews didn't have the luxury of today's cell phones and GPS technology. They relied on the two-way radio and the dispatcher's information, which had to be accurate.
Bill Mould was one of the many firefighters called in to assist from neighboring counties.
"And Steve was known throughout the city as being one of the best if not THE best dispatcher. He had a voice that was kind of booming and..he also had a great calming voice that you always knew you had somebody on the other end of the radio who understood what was going on," said Mould.
By the time the riots came to an end, more than 1,000 buildings had been burned, but a fire was ignited in Souder's soul. He says those few tragic days showed him he found his niche in life, so he stuck with it — for 51 years.
He told us, "If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life."
Today, Souder is the director of one of the 10 largest 911 centers in the country, which is located in Fairfax County, Va.
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