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BOUNTIFUL — Some people just know when they find a hobby to last a lifetime. For Gary Johnson, it's being a HAM radio operator. "I love it," he said. "There's a fire in my belly. I do love this hobby a lot."
There are times, though, when his hobby stops being a hobby and becomes something so much more. When severe winds hit northern Utah Thursday, Johnson and his HAM radio friends were called into action.
"We were used to pass information, health and welfare," he said; "be the eyes and the ears of the police department."
Johnson, or N7DND to his friends, was at home in Bountiful when he got the call from the Davis County sheriff. Communications were breaking down because of all the commotion, and the sheriff was wondering if some HAM radio operators could help get messages through to emergency personnel.
Within no time, Johnson had 18 volunteers who were staffed at cities throughout Davis County.
"To have those HAM radio operators on call, and even in our radio room, was a tremendous asset for us," said Davis County Sheriff's Lt. Brad Wilcox.
In a normal 24-hour period, dispatchers at the Davis County Sheriff's Office get 625 phone calls on average. But Thursday, they had more than double that — 1,373 phone calls.
"Our system was saturated. We were at maximum," Wilcox said.
The lines were so maxed out, sometimes dispatchers couldn't respond to police right away.
"It was very scary for the dispatchers to push the button and not be able to talk for three minutes," Wilcox said, which is where the HAM radio operators came in handy.
For Johnson, it was an all day job — but one that kept him smiling every single minute of it. He knew his team made a difference. "We train and we live for days like this," he said. "This is some of the most excitement that we can have."
HAM radio operators in the area have training sessions every single week and a general meeting once a month, and it's all volunteer.