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[Table] I am a 911 dispatcher for police, fire and medical in a large metropolitan area. And I've heard it all.

2013.05.26 23:07 tabledresser [Table] I am a 911 dispatcher for police, fire and medical in a large metropolitan area. And I've heard it all.

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Date: 2013-05-26
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How has this job affected your views on humanity? And what's the most fucked up call you've ever gotten? With the high volume of illiterate and unwanton calls I recieve on a weekly basis, I'm beginning to lose my faith. But there's always that "call" where people are genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of their fellow citizens, and that to me, restores a little tiny bit each time.
The worst call I've ever recieved would probably be about a lady who killed hundreds of cats by drowning them in her own home. I love cats! Though I prefer dogs more.
I'm a new dispatcher about to be released from training. In my small agency I may be totally alone sometimes. Any advice? Of course! Communication is key. If you have to leave your station for any reason, communicate that to your police officers as much as possible (FIRE/MEDICAL personnel don't really need to know this info UNLESS they are out on a call).
Also, my superiors are big on radio professionalism here, and it's always a juggling act when it comes to relaying information from a 3rd party to your responding units. And remember; radio traffic can usually be picked up on civillian airwaves unless it's an encrypted channel, so there's a high probability that people are listening in.
Last thing: it may be tempting to share your side of the story with the media, especially since we have a "front-row" to most emergency situations taking place. But such divulgence of information can affect the investigations of any call.
In my line of work, I answer the phone a lot, and I get the "it's an emergency" thing only to find out it's not. What's the most "non-emergency" thing people have claimed is an emergency? Broken water lines. Always the broken water lines. And non-vicious animal control calls. It's very repetitive, but most people treat the center as an "information hub", and it's always important to treat your callers with respect and professionalism, seeing as how our verbatim and conversation can affect the public's confidence with their city services and employees.
What's the worst thing you have ever heard? The worse calls I have gotten would probably be suicides. No family ever wants to come home and find that.
How often do you receive "Prank calls"? Not very often. I do however recieve a large number of "pocket dials", seeing as how most mobile phones come equipped with a "lock screen" option, it only takes a swipe or button press to activate the "emergency phone call" option (which can only dial 911).
Have you ever saved a life over the phone? Last week, we had a "hostage situation" -- and get this -- it was in the same apartment complex I live in. The quickest way to save anyone's life via telephone is identifying the threat or emergency and correlating the responding police/fire/medical forces to that location. We dispatched the police department to the area in a timely manner and caught the suspect as he was walking out to the parking lot to "get something" out of his vehicle. If we hadn't responded within minutes of the call being made, it could have ended differently.
What is the strangest call you have ever received that turned out to be real? Strangest call? Hmm, recently we had a lady phone in as she was driving down the road, claiming that someone had a knife to her sister's throat (who was living in another town). The call itself began very casual and forthcoming, but as we dug deeper trying to extract information, it turned out to be real. Here's the article: Link to
Have you ever treated a call from someone you knew? If so, how did you handle the personal emotions that come into play when dealing with a friend or loved one who is in an emergency? Thanks for the AMA! You're welcome! I've had several within the tenure of my employment here. Most of the time, the friend or relative on the other end of the line didn't know it was me. I've learned through out the course of my careers that you have to leave emotions at the front door of your home; any distractions could affect the performance of your job duties, and no one wants that. Fortunately, I haven't fielded any calls that pertained to death/injury to family or friends.
Do people in lower-class areas get better worse service than people in upper-class areas? If so, how and why? If not, why is this a popular conception? Edit: Oops! Big mistake. In our jurisdiction, we respond to calls without bias. A person's life is important to me regardless of whatever call/criminal record they have accrued. I treat every call as if it could be my family or friend. Popular conception of this particular issue is usually portrayed by the handling and discretion of the responding unit.
If I had secretly dialed 911 because someone had a gun on me, what should I say to make you realize it's a real emergency and not a butt-dial without the gunman noticing? Hey Julia - in the event something like that happens, we are trained to pick up on subtlety's and any abnormal behavior whilst on the phone line. We are also trained to acknowledge when someone is speaking in "code"; when the reporting party is speaking in a manner in which they do not want to alert the gunman. You could engage in conversation with the gunman, such as a plea for sympathy on his behalf. Once you get the gunman to engage in this type of conversation, it is fairly easy for a well-trained dispatcher to discern what is an actual emergency and not a butt-dial.
So, how does it feel working in a velociraptor free workplace? EDIT: For those who were wondering, this is the image he has in his office. Haha I found that and posted it on the wall. I'm surprised no one has taken it down yet! Woo go me :)
A lot of people are upset about how the 911 call that Amanda Berry made to be rescued from 10 years of captivity in Cleveland ( Link to It seems several times like the guy is trying to get her off the phone. Do you feel that this call followed protocol? Would you have handled it differently? I would have most definitely handled it differently. In the event that the call turned out to be bogus, you've done your job correctly if you've treated it as if it were real. Some people in this line of work have become complacent in their job duties having worked for so many years doing the same thing.
For example, had he done it correctly and professionally, the public body would take notice and would have instilled more confidence in the city's emergency services.
On the radio the other day, there was a report about a woman in Oregon whose abusive ex was trying to break into her home. She called the police and the dispatcher told her she didn't have any officers to send and to "ask him to go away." The guy ended up getting in, choking and raping her. They played the audio of the 911 call on the radio. It made me feel sick. What are your thoughts on this? While I cannot speak on the behalf of all dispatchers, there are some (even within our own agecy) who've worked here for years and have become complacent with their job duties. Could be time for that dispatcher to find a new career field? I think so.
Why isn't poison control part of 911? That's a good question! Poision control center's have their own specific policies in handling calls. They receive a much more extensive training process then we do, in identifying ingested chemicals, etc.
I want to believe you verified this by calling 911. "Hello, yes... I'm from the internet... Ahh... indeed you are answering questions... Ok, thanks!" Lmao! This cracked me up. Thanks for the lighthearted humor during my 9 hour stint :)
Last updated: 2013-05-30 20:59 UTC
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