SHIRLEY — Richard Dill and John Soltesz, who have donated many hours of time and high-quality, high-tech expertise to upgrade the town’s public-safety technology, are this year’s Nashoba Publishing Extraordinary Service Award winners.
That makes the two computer-savvy experts a pair of unlikely heroes, since these awards have historically been given to public-safety personnel for service above and beyond the call of duty. Dill and Soltesz were nominated by the police chief for going above and beyond in a different way.
Police Chief Paul Thibodeau credits Soltesz for the new video surveillance system and Dill for upgraded computers that link police cars with information sources, including other towns.
Although the installations were separate projects, they overlap, and the two men collaborated on various aspects of the work.
“Without them Rich on computers and John on audio, our systems wouldn’t be what they are today,” said Thibodeau. That is, sophisticated, state of the art and in compliance with state law and federal guidelines, post-Sept. 11.
When the state superior court ruled that all prisoner interviews must be completely audio- and video-taped to be presented in court, Thibodeau consulted Soltesz, who works in the field of video technology.
“We wanted to comply (with the new law), and his name came up,” he said.
The station was already hooked up with video cameras that monitor the outside of the building. Soltesz modified and upgraded the system, adding cameras and other new equipment to expand capabilities.
“He got the equipment for us at cost,” the chief said.
Soltesz’ time — at least 60 hours of it — was provided free. Not only did he install the apparatus, wire it into the existing system, and get everything up and running, Thibodeau said he trained people to use it.
Dill played a pivotal part in implementing the new Information Management Corp. system, which is used in police cars’ on-board computers and must be upgraded regularly.
When the money came in from a community police grant to buy new software, Dill, who had done a number of volunteer technology projects in town already, “ran with the ball,” said Thibodeau.
Citing his contributions, the chief said Dill helped the department determine its criteria and decide what to buy. He also worked on links used to share information with other departments via the criminal information network.
As part of the evaluation process, Dill met with police departments in five area towns that share the network to discuss individual and mutual requirements, said Thibodeau.
“I acted as project manager,” said Dill.
The differences the two information-technology specialists’ volunteer services have made at the police station are apparent, said Thibodeau. Lining the dispatcher’s desk, front and rear, an array of monitors perform a variety of police functions, from an enhanced emergency 911 system that pinpoints the locations of incoming calls on a townwide street map to a video monitor that surveys the recesses and perimeters of the station at all times and can display a number of areas on-screen at the same time by shrinking the images.
The equipment was costly, said Dill, but well worth the price.
Thibodeau agrees. He said the enhanced emergency 911 system is one of the best in the area, and the video surveillance system was one of the first to comply with the new law.
“These are very sophisticated systems,” he said.
But the cramped dispatcher’s station and smaller-than-optimal closet space where the operational inner workings are located can barely contain it all, and plans are in the works to build an addition to the station in the near future if the town can find the money to pay for it. For now, temporary fixes include a fan in the closet to keep the computerized unit cool and a cutout in the wall for ventilation in the dispatch area.
“We didn’t plan for all this” when the new station was built, Thibodeau later said. It was designed before the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks six years ago, he said.
Soltesz said his job is pretty much done, but Dill said his project is not quite complete. Both still have drop-in status at the station, where Soltesz spent so many hours not so long ago and where they worked on the video project together.
This peripatetic interview launched at the Shirley Middle School, continued at the police station and wrapped, informally, in the parking lot, where Soltesz and Dill commented on the lights illuminating three new flag poles on the green. That, in turn, led to a discussion of conduits that connect the lights to the power source, along with various electronic systems in the municipal complex.
Where someone else might see a raw ditch with a pipe running through it, these guys envision a house that’s too narrow for the tangle of fat cables running through it. Underneath it all, they said they know there’s an off-center hub-to-spoke layout that connects the buildings electronically and that, given the option, they’d have designed differently.
Dill has lived in town for 12 years. He worked at IBM in Westborough for three years. He served on the School Building Committee for six years and before that on the site design committee. He traced his town involvement to his interest in the schools.
Dill said he wants the school his two children, now 11 and 12, attend to be computer-friendly. During the construction of the middle school, then-town administrator Tom Linden contacted him about joining a group he was forming at the time to assist with high-tech matters. Together, they formed the Shirley Technical Advisory Board.
Soltesz, who has lived in town for 32 years, also has two kids. One just graduated from Shirley Middle School and plans to attend Nashoba Valley Technical High School. The other is a junior at Ayer High School.
The two men met a few years ago when Dill’s daughter was selling Girl Scout cookies and went to the Soltesz’s door. Soltesz’s late father, who also lived at the family compound on Center Road and ran a computer business there, used to buy the cookies in bulk and give them away, he said.
Asked what motivated him to volunteer, Soltesz, who also builds and drives race cars, gave a short, simple answer.
“I was asked,” he said.