'I can't see myself doing anything else': Local dispatcher wins award for roadside birth

Nov. 6—TRAVERSE CITY — For as long as Andrea Holczman can remember, she wanted to work as a first responder and help people.

Last week, Holczman was honored by the First Responders Children's Foundation in New York City on Oct. 28 — First Responders Day — with an award recognizing her for her service as a 911 dispatcher in Grand Traverse County.

"It was amazing," she said.

Her dad, John McPeake, said Holczman was nominated by a corrections officer from Leelanau County for the work she did helping to successfully deliver a baby over the phone.

For most of her calls, she said she doesn't get to hear a happy ending. With this call — which ultimately won her the award — she said it was nice to hear a baby's cries when it was all over.

"It was the highlight of my career," Holczman said.

Part of the award included a trip to New York City alongside other winners from all over the country. Holczman was one of two winners from Michigan in the first time first responders from the state had been honored, according to FRCF's CEO Jillian Crane.

Crane said this is only the second year they have honored first responders on First Responders Day, and the first year they gave awards to first responders outside of New York City.

"We were looking at states outside of New York and looking for a 911 dispatcher who had been serving her community, who we could honor as a representative for every 911 dispatcher," Crane said of the award-selection process.

The first honoree last year was Gladys Mitchell, an NYPD 911 dispatcher who picked up the first call on 9/11.

The FRCF was founded after 9/11 to help provide scholarships and support for the children of first responders who died during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

This was Holczman's first time in New York City. She saw the 9/11 Memorial Museum, rode in a New York Police Department boat and walked around Times Square.

Holczman first moved to the Traverse City area in 2003 after graduating high school. As the daughter of a military man, she said spent most of her childhood moving around. After a brief stint downstate, she said she moved back to the area in 2006 and has been here ever since.

"This is where I've lived the longest," she said. "It's home now."

She first started working as a dispatcher in November 2007, making this her 15th year.

"I always knew I wanted to be in some sort of emergency service," Holczman said.

She was already working at Munson Medical Center in town when she saw the job posting and "has been there ever since."

"There's definitely calls that stuck with me throughout the years," she said. "The childbirth one is definitely going to stick with me because that's a positive one."

On Sept. 27 she picked up the first call of her shift. It was from a mom sitting next to her daughter, who was in labor in a Honda Pilot pulled over in Mayfield Township. Over the phone, she walked grandma and mom through the labor process, resulting in the birth of a healthy baby girl.

She said growing up and watching her dad always serve others in the military is what inspired her to become a first responder.

"It was just always ingrained between my dad and my mom that if you can do something, do something," she remembered. "Don't just stand by and watch."

Her father, McPeake, said he and his wife, Annette, are incredibly proud of their daughter.

"I think that 9-1-1 operators are overlooked when it comes to the first responders, and they're the ones that direct the people out there," McPeake said.

Crane said she could feel Holczman's compassion and care for the work she does when she first met her in New York City.

"They are the lifeline for the cities they live in because they bring the proper help to people who need it in an emergency," Crane said. "You never see them, but you hear them."

Holczman's colleague at Grand Traverse Central Dispatch, Corey Lecureux, said the recognition is well-deserved. In addition to working the phones during her shift, Lecureux explained that Holczman trains many of the new dispatchers.

"When she took the call in Kingsley that got her this recognition, it was just one of a deluge of examples of her doing the very best job that she can day-in and day-out," Lecureux said. "She's always very dependable, and she's been that way for 15 years."

He said at work she keeps track of all of her assignments, as well as all the others going on at the office.

Outside of work, Holczman said she loves to spend time with her three kids and her dogs and chickens as a way to unwind after a long shift.

She said she also loves to "get outside in the peace and quiet," and go hiking, camping and hunting with loved ones.

"I can't see myself doing anything else," Holczman said. "I joke around about finding a different job, but I can't imagine doing anything else at this point."