Longtime emergency communications leader named Waubonsee featured alumnus

By on October 6, 2009

SUGAR GROVE—During the past 33 years, Jerald “Jerry” Bleck helped ensure the safety of thousands of local community members through his groundbreaking work as director of Tri-Com Emergency Dispatch Center. For his numerous accomplishments and years of service, the Waubonsee Community College Board of Trustees recognized Bleck as the college’s September Featured Alumnus at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting.

Retired for less than three weeks, Bleck’s impact on the field of emergency and public safety communications continues to resonate throughout the region and especially in Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles and Elburn, which are the communities served by Tri-Com.

In 1976 the police and fire departments in each of the Tri-Cities had separate numbers for their police and fire departments, creating six different emergency numbers. That year, Bleck set out to centralize emergency communications when he led the creation of the Tri-Com Emergency Dispatch Center that brought together emergency dispatch services for Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles, allowing residents for all three communities to dial 911 for police and fire assistance. One of the first consolidated dispatch centers in the state, Tri-Com greatly improved communications through its centralized, multi-jurisdictional approach.

“The communities were now able to communicate better, share equipment and share manpower,” Bleck said. “There is much less duplication. You don’t need three systems for everything.”

Throughout his career, Bleck has witnessed significant changes in the emergency communications field and successfully worked to keep Tri-Com at the leading edge of trends and technologies. Starting out with no computers and 10 employees working out of the Geneva Police Department, the agency now has 23 employees and operates out of its own, high-tech, $2.1 million center near the Kane County Judicial Center. Tri-Com also coordinates mutual aid for 15 urban and rural fire and EMS agencies during large-scale incidents.

Bleck began his higher education at Aurora College, now Aurora University. He transferred to Waubonsee in 1969 and was one of the first students to take classes at the college’s new Sugar Grove campus. He earned an associate degree in professional law enforcement from Waubonsee in 1971 and would return to Aurora College to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

While at Waubonsee, Bleck helped spearhead the creation of Waubonsee’s public safety department. Having helped form a Tri-Cities civil defense program, he saw the need for a safety and security presence at Waubonsee’s new campus. Coordinating with a law enforcement instructor, Bleck’s idea resulted in a plan approved by Waubonsee’s Board of Trustees. A key element of the plan, which continues today, is that criminal justice students gain valuable experience as public safety cadets.

Bleck began his career in the field in 1972 as a dispatcher for the Geneva Police Department. Being named Tri-Com’s first and only director at only 26 years old is testament to his strong skills, reputation and knowledge base.

“I’m very sure that if I had not gone in the direction I did, in terms of my education, I would not have had the opportunity to lead Tri-Com,” he said. “My education was the difference, and I am very grateful to both Waubonsee and Aurora (University).”

Beyond helping him get the job, Bleck’s education also enabled him to understand the demands of the officers in the field and better support their work.

“At Waubonsee, I really got involved in learning how to be a police officer,” he said. “It gave me a great deal of insight into what happens in the field and how to give them the tools they need to do their job.”

Working with other colleagues in the emergency dispatch field, Bleck helped create the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), which is dedicated to making 911 technology and emergency communication work universally throughout the United States and Canada. He has served a term as president of NENA, as a regional director for more than six years, and has been inducted into the NENA Hall of Fame. He is a member of the Association of Safety Communication Officials and recently received the national 2009 Communications Center Director of the Year Award, recognizing his service to more than 125,000 Fox Valley residents in a 200-square-mile area, with an annual emergency call request of more than 80,000 each year.

Bleck is a Life Member of the Illinois Police Association and a member of the Kane County Fire Chiefs Association. Since 1989 he has been a member of the Kane County Emergency Telephone System Board and has been its chairman since 2001.

A resident of Geneva, Bleck and his wife, Kathy, have two grown children, Laura and Lisa. In addition to his work with Tri-Com, he has also served as an instructor in Elgin Community College’s Public Safety and Telecommunications program.