14 questions you always wanted to ask a 911 dispatcher, answered

Jessica Brown@Jessica_E_Brown
Saturday 31 December 2016 12:45
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Picture:(Shutterstock / Jaromir Chalabala)

Emergency service dispatchers are the calm, collected and invaluable people on the other end of the phone when you need an ambulance, the police or fire services.

As far as jobs go, it’s safe to say it's a fascinating one, and a 911 dispatcher of 12 years has just taken to Reddit to answer the things we’ve all wondered about.

So, without further ado, let's step into the world of a dispatcher:

1. What is the weirdest non-emergency you ever answered to?

One lady said she saw a puma with a bald head cross the road... Surprisingly, responders could not locate it.

"Her vagina done fell out" ranks as one of the strangest complaints we've gotten.

I had a call a few months back from a woman saying her neighbour's house was in flames. Turns out it was the sunset reflecting off the windows. 

2. What’s the funniest call you’ve received?

A caller called 911 to say two "crackwhores" had stolen his wallet and not had sex with him after he solicited them, so he got ripped off and robbed.

We asked their names. His answer?

Crackwhore 1 and Crackwhore 2.

3. What’s the worst call that you have ever faced?

Last winter, I took a call from a guy who says he was going to shoot himself, and then he did it while I listened. The silence after that gun shot was... Heavy.

4. Have you had any funny calls from children?

Usually the only cute ones we get are toddlers going "goo goo gaa" into the phone that they mashed buttons on, then their mother/parent saying "Hey, don't call them!" and hanging up.

5. How hard is it to understand people when they’re panicking?

Only a small percentage of callers are found to be "too distraught" for us to get any info, meaning we should almost never be unable to get anything unless someone just hangs up/loses connection.

With background noise and crappy cell reception it's hard enough… But add in panic and we have to ask people to repeat things all the time, unfortunately. We do have a protocol we have to follow to maintain our certifications, and it always starts with us confirming the address, phone number, and name.

6. What’s the protocol for when someone reports a suicide?

We will send EMS and Law Enforcement and probably first responders no matter what you say in that situation, and they will come as fast as possible unless you tell us certain things (like his head is off, he is already decomposing, etc) that we call "unequivocal death" meaning there is no doubt he is deceased.

7. Is there anything someone could do to communicate that they’re in trouble without making much noise?

It would be hard to recommend something that would be reliably effective. We've had people pull the old "ordering a pizza" thing to disguise they were really calling 911. I once had a guy just groan into the phone who was having a stroke.

If you call, we will do our best to get help to you even if we have no information except a cell phone GPS plot.

8. Do you get annoyed at people calling about petty things?

We get a little annoyed, we joke about it, we make sarcastic comments after we hang up with the caller... But we still advise our units of every single one! We take your life and safety seriously, even if you're being a little silly or petty.

9. Do calls upset you?

It is easier for me then some of my peers for whatever reason. I just don't get very emotionally invested unless it's someone I know or care about. I know it sounds very heartless, but I'd argue it makes me better suited because even seasoned veterans in this job can get a horrible call and freeze up... And that's when things go really wrong.

10. How do you decide when you should stay on the call instead of just take the call and dispatch and then disconnect?

It's kind of a hard thing to put into words, sometimes you just get a feeling like "Hey, those background noises are weird" or " This caller's voice sounds scared even though she says she's fine".

Other times, the caller themselves asks you to stay on, especially with some bad medical calls.

11. What's your favourite call you've had?

I gave CPR instructions for a three-month-old girl who made it to the hospital because of it, that felt really good.

12. How often are people rude during these calls?

About 1 in 4 times, we get yelled at or cursed at. It's okay, we can take it.

13. Can you detect a butt dial?

The key difference in determining whether it's a butt dial or a serious emergency situation is listening to the background sounds. Do I hear signs of a struggle or just a normal chatty conversation? Either way though, as long as we can get a good fix on your location we're going to send someone out to you, and I won't disconnect until you do or an officer or first responder makes contact with you.

14. How many calls for heart attacks turn out to be panic attacks?

The majority, especially in younger patients, thankfully.

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