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MunicipalIamA 911 operator/dispatcher - AMAA!

Mar 21st 2015 by TADispatch • 47 Questions • 863 Points

Hi Reddit! I've been a 911 dispatcher for several years now. I never planned on taking this career track, but have grown to love what I do. I will try to answer most questions to the best of my ability, but remember I do have to adhere to privacy and HIPAA laws.

Proof: http://m.imgur.com/gWXFBUB

Update: Alright ladies and gents, I'm out for now! Remember, National Telecommunicator Appreciation Week is April 13 -19th! So find your local 911 center and send a card, email, or find out if they're hosting an open house and go let them know that they are loved! Maybe even get an IRL AMA going on!

Q:

My sister was murdered last year in her apartment by her roommate and he was actually the one who called and reported it and told the operator how to get to the apartment. Listening to that call was the most chilling thing I've ever heard in my whole life. The way he talked about her to the operator. The operator did a phenomenal job of keeping her composure and keeping him on the line. Well I just found out recently that that was the last 911 call she ever handled, she quit about 3 weeks after her paid leave was up. She didn't want to take calls anymore. I want to reach out to her and thank her somehow, but I wouldn't think they'd give me that info. So I want to thank you for your dedication and hard work. If there was a way to figure out how to reach out to that operator, how would you recommend I do so?

Edit: For the curious, I haven't listened to it in a long time, but this is the call.

A:

The other replies are right - your best bet is to send something to her old place of employment. They should be able to forward it to her. You could include an email or other means to contact you so she would have the option. Thank you for acknowledging her service. I'm proud of her for representing 911 operators so wonderfully.


Q:

Thank you for responding. I'll try that. Through the grieving process I never even begun to think about the operator. I just found out the other day, maybe a week or so ago, about her leaving her job. It's been a year and a month since that day, and it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I really want to reach out to her. Thanks again, I think I'm just starting to ramble now!

A:

And I'm sorry i didn't say so before,but I'm so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine the devastation your family went through and i hope you all find healing and comfort.


Q:

Is it ever "just too much" some days? Have you ever had to leave work early or go somewhere private to recollect yourself?

A:

I've wanted to leave some days. There was one day in particular where there were three houses on fire, a field on fire, back to back medical calls and the phones ringing of the hook. It all seemed like too much for three dispatchers and a supervisor.

And then there's the calls that make your heart sink. Kids drowning. A woman finding her son after he committed suicide by hanging.


Q:

What do you instruct a caller to do when they say they've come across a person in a noose?

A:

Cut them down so we can begin CPR.


Q:

"Are they dead for sure?"

"I don't know"

"Can you make sure they're dead?"

bang

"Okay, now what?"

A:

Ha! The old standby!


Q:

You're one tough customer, to be able to laugh along. Which makes me wonder -- is there much in the way of gallows humor that you engage in at work, in order to make it through the day? I'm sorry for the unfortunate pun.

A:

Well that one there is an old joke we tell each other. I'm sure you've heard it... two guys hunting, one gets shot on accident, the other calls 911 and says i think my buddy's dead! The operator tells him check to make sure if he's dead. The caller shoots him again and says ok he's dead, now what?

We all have really dark senses of humor. It's s coping mechanism to deal with all of the stress and tragedy.


Q:

Do you generally get much information about what happens after you've taken a call?

I imagine it would be incredibly frustrating to get a five minute snapshot of the most stressful day in a person's life then never get to hear about what happened afterwards, whether they were okay etc.

A:

It is sometimes gets frustrating, but i kind of let it roll off my shoulders. Sometimes we get to know the outcomes because it's one of the agencies we dispatch for.


Q:

Awesome! But do you have time for that? If you hear it is a pocket call and there is nothing wrong don't you have to hang up and be available for the next caller? (Dutch here so I don't know much about your job)

A:

It kind of depends. We're trained to hear key noises that give away an emergency so we're pretty efficient there, but if there's nothing else going on and we've got something funny we might spend a couple minutes listening. There are usually three to five of us on duty so being available for call after call isn't usually an issue unless it's a period of high volume (when people get off work, when there's bad weather, etc.)


Q:

Have you seen that domestic abuse commercial where the women calls 911 and pretends to order a pizza? Have you ever gotten any calls like that? Would something like that actually happen?

A:

Yes. One woman asked for an insurance quote. We've coached people to talk to us like family members or the electric company.


Q:

If I were to say something along the lines of "I would like the 11-99 combo and delivery", would the dispatcher recognize that as the police code for "I need help immediately"?

A:

Not since the move to plain speech. Some of us use ten codes still but since 9-11 the standard is to use plain speech. But from the context,the dispatcher would probably catch on.


Q:

Did your start this line of work because of your love of the TV show, hosted by Bill Shatner, Rescue 911?

How does one go about getting a job in radio?

But seriously, thanks for your service to your community.

A:

I used to LOVE that show as a kid! It always gave me goosebumps! I guess it was foreshadowing that I would work in emergency services when i watched that shoe and read all of the emergency pamphlets in hotels.


Q:

Do you feel that all of your peers should be doing the job they are doing, directly talking to people on the other end of the phone? Is there anyone who might have been there for too long, or not enough and just don't care?

A:

Sadly, all of those. Compassion fatigue is a real problem that all of us face. It makes me angry when people half-ass at our job. I try to catch myself if i start feeling apathetic, by remembering that I'm supposed to be there for people on their worst day. Since I'm also a training officer, i train all of my newbies to be self aware and to give their best when people are at their worst.


Q:

There was a really good scene in a show recently where a fellow police officer/their friend had been murdered and the next day their Sergeant told them all "everything is going to seem trivial to you today. But remember they've had to call the police, this is them at their worst, so you need to remember to be at your best and be compassionate". I really liked that.

A:

That's awesome... and deep.


Q:

What's the most light-hearted or funniest call you've had?

A:

A man once called because he wanted a refund from his prostitute because he wasn't satisfied with her performance.


Q:

How was that situation handled?

A:

The gentleman was politely told to drop the issue and not call 911 again for that or he would go to jail.


Q:

My sister-in-law wasa a 911 dispatcher for years.

Best one she told me was an older woman that called because she let her dog outside to do its business and a stray ran up and mounted her dog in her yard and started having sex.

She called to report another dog was raping her dog.

A:

That is AMAZING!


Q:

I just want to say that I love how much you're replying. You're really good at AMAs. You should pick up a bunch of other interesting careers and do one for each.

A:

Thank you! That's a really great compliment to receive!


Q:

Did 911 told her about the old bucket of water trick?

A:

The gentleman was politely told to drop the issue and not call 911 again for that or he would go to jail.


Q:

Are you a certified peace officer? Can you make an arrest as an officer of the law? Where does your authority start and stop?

A:

Not a sworn officer. I'm primarily a fire dispatcher. My authority begins with the phone and ends with the radio. I cannot arrest anyone and do not carry a gun.


Q:

Thank you for your answer.

A:

You're welcome! I just want a cool badge! We used to have them, but my boss was afraid people would target us or ask us for help we couldn't give, so we phased them out (before i got a chance to get one).


Q:

or that youd go around in public waving your fancy badge pretending to be a cop. Im sure thats happened a few times.

A:

I mean, not me! I'd just like it because some of the other dispatchers have them and I've got envy issues lol! But i realize that with great badge comes great responsibility.


Q:

Oh sorry I meant "you" as a general blanket term. :P

A:

No worries, i got ya! :)


Q:

Cop here - do you appreciate my puns on the air? They always seem to just hang on the air waves. I like to imagine dispatch collectively roaring with laughter.

Also, my personal phonetic alphabet on uneventful night shifts. Enjoyable or lame?

A:

Love them! We're trying to contain the laughter while the supervisor is giving us the stink eye!


Q:

We can all imagine the sad stories, the horror stories, the amount of human pain you've seen. But what was the most heartwarming call you've ever had?

A:

A woman stopped at the scene of horrific vehicle accident and held the hand of a young woman until she was airlifted to a hospital. She laid in the mud for almost an hour.


Q:

Has your PSAP ever gone offline? I managed to knock out our city's PSAP for ~10 minutes, but the county stayed online fortunately.

A:

We have four backup systems in place that are tested monthly. We've also got a backup site in case the problem is with our location (ex. a bomb, fire, or other catastrophe)


Q:

Have you ever gotten a call and it turned out it was from someone you knew personally?

A:

Not really. I'm not from the area where i now live so i don't know many people. There was a call for the place where my spouse was working. It was a shooting. I was terrified. Turns out some person forgot to put the safety on their gun and it went off. Shot themselves in the foot.


Q:

You didn't plan on this career, so what path brought you to it?

When called, what information do you seek first?

What is the most annoying habit of true emergency callers, and what would you have folks calling in do differently to alleviate it?

What impact do callers with location disabled on their mobiles have?

Are latitude/longitude coordinates as useful for responders as a nearby street address for outdoor incidents?

Do you have text/SMS 911 available yet? How does the less interactive nature of texting impact things? (Or if not enabled for you yet, what do you anticipate/have you heard? Will procedures be different than verbal?)

What other modern forms of communication might be adopted, since texting is being replaced by online/mobile chat services.

A:

Wow! Ok, here we go: I was fresh out of college and needed to find a job. It seemed promising, but scary and i told myself I'd find another job the whole first year. Here i still am though!

First question is always, LOCATION! They stress that all through academy because without location, nothing else matters.

The most annoying thing people do is start dumping information as soon as we answer the line. If it's something you think you'll forget like a license plate, by all means, provide it right after you give your location. Otherwise, let your operator question you,as the order of the questions usually has a reason.

As for callers with location deactivated, I'm not sure what the effects are yet... we've never been informed if it effects our ability to use our wireless ping.

Latitude - longitude are very useful when you're somewhere without streets like a mountain or on the water. Otherwise we operate on preprogrammed computer programs with nearly all of the streets in our jurisdiction programed in. If you know what street you're on or near, it's always faster to locate you.

We have very limited text to 911 abilities utilizing a program called Smart 911. The text has to be initiated by the 911 operator. We have not ever used it to date.

We're working on full text to 911 integration and all policies and procedures within the next couple of years.


Q:

Once I called 911 and promptly forgot my address. It was a few months after I'd moved into a college dorm and I hadn't had a reason to use the street address, only the building/room number. Since my school (a large state school) has its own police department I assumed they would have their own call center as well, because I don't know how these things work.

Anyway, since you speak for the trees, I would like to apologize for that incredibly frustrating call.

A:

Speaking for us trees, we totally understand. Before i worked here i had to call 911 when a little old man collapsed in our parking lot. Being a moron, i thought my phone would teach the 911 center in my hometown instead of where my university was. I wasted two minutes of that dispatcher's life explaining that i wasn't actually where she thought i was. I felt so stupid when i found out how it worked.


Q:

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

A:

Pineapple and Canadian bacon!


Q:

How did you end up in this career path, I know you said you didn't plan on it, but what's the path that lead you to being a dispatcher?

A:

I was a recent college grad with big student loans and no money. I saw an ad in the paper and thought, "i think i could do that." I applied and went through a year long training academy. It was the hardest year of my life, but it had been so rewarding!


Q:

What is the pay like?

A:

When i started it was about 25K plus benefits. Now I'm at about 38k plus benefits.


Q:

Can you help me doing my homework?

A:

Not if it's math... but I'm good with geography!


Q:

I actually saw a clip on YouTube where a young kid asks a 911 operator to do his homework

A:

Haha! I once had a kid call and tell me there were monsters under his bed! He said they had eaten his mom! Of course we take every call seriously so I questioned him about what the monster looked like and got quite a wild description! When officers found him, it turned out he had had a bad dream.


Q:

Have you ever heard anything interesting from someone who butt dialed 911?

A:

Usually just people going about their days... but occasionally they're In the middle of a drug deal or having sex.... but the best are when they're singing. People sing their hearts or not knowing I'm listening and giggling.


Q:

Hello, I've been wondering if one of us had done one of these.(been in the center for 12 years)

My center recently started using text to 911 and while I have some opinions on it, I am curious if your center uses it? And if so, what are your thought?

A:

We don't have it yet... and we're all apprehensive. Part of what makes us us, i think, is that we're control freaks and text to 911 takes some of that control away.


Q:

I tend to agree... The background noise is something I find valuable and just don't get that from text. Also the fake/prank rate is vastly greater on text for some reason.

Thanks for the response

A:

Wow, so i take it you guys don't like it? What are your policies for the prank texts?


Q:

As a fellow 911 operator and police dispatcher, how big of area do you dispatch for? What shifts do you work? Do you guys have retention problems too? I started 2 years ago, and already 24 people have quit due to crap hours, being treated like shit, and insane overtime... For example, over the course of 7 days I worked 106 hours. It was very common for most of us to work 70-80+ hours a week.

Last but not least, best call?

A:

We have a population of about 250,000. We have major retention problems. Since I've been employed we have lost nearly 60 employees.

Honestly i don't know how you guys are managing with 70-80 hour weeks. We have overtime available every week but those kinds of hours aren't normal for us. We work a weird schedule but it works. Two on, two off, three on two off, two on, three off.

Best call... hmmm.... I've been told that my best calls are suicides. I once got a woman to give me her address, put down her weapon and peacefully go to the hospital. They're stressful but I feel a real connection to those people and their pain.


Q:

Have you ever taken a phone call that was completely out of your's or the callers control? I mean regarding bad phone lines, loud noises in the background, half-conscious or drunk caller? Or situations where you're unable to get the details you need for serious crimes and stuff like that?

A:

All the time. I'll get a totally awesome, calm caller and the people in the background are flipping their lids and i can't hear a freakin thing. It's frustrating, but i get what i can and work with what I've got. If all I've got is the location then we'll start with police and let them request ambulance or fire when they get on scene.


Q:

What is the salary range for your position?

A:

I make about 38k, starting pay is about 25k. We have fully paid health insurance and retirement. The total package is somewhere around 50k for me.


Q:

What is the best thing I can do to avoid harm if someone breaks into my house? Say I am a single woman with two children. I have a shotgun that I can get to, but my first thought would be to get my kids safe. Do I dial 911 first? Get the kids safe first? Or get the gun? I spent six years in the army and a lifetime around guns. I would not hesitate to use one on an intruder. But I'm not sure what the most effective step should be.

A:

Call 911 first. Really, it's hard to tell you what to do at this point. You know how to use your gun, and this is where you have to make a choice. As for the kids, i would do drills with them ahead of time so they knew what to do. It's a tough question. There's no right answer besides call for help.


Q:

Is it difficult to "switch off" after a shift or is it easier to do the longer your in the job?

A:

I love to talk shop with others in my field and it helps that I've got a lot of friends who swirl in emergency services too. It helps me unwind but i do find myself more keen to listen for sirens or to rubber - neck accidents.

I do bring the stress home, but I've got a great family who is really supportive on my bad days.


Q:

In what aspect of your job do you like most?

A:

The challenge, that it's never the same day twice, and my best friends are some of my coworkers. On slow nights we play pranks on each other or play cards or tell jokes. Some of the best people in the world.


Q:

how do you handle the information overload? With the transition to full NG911 you are going to be seeing images/video on top of voice and trying to use a CAD system. Have you been given any training or are you just expected to figure it out?

A:

We've been briefed on it, but no formal training so far. We're all nervous about it and there's been a lot of Chatroulette jokes.


Q:

What are the types of calls we shouldn't make to 911 and instead call the police department directly?

A:

Anything where you don't need an officer to respond to your location, really questions about legal stuff. At least at my center since none of us are formally trained in law.


Q:

What was the training like for your job? Anything you particularly liked or didn't like about it?

A:

One year of training. It was like boot camp. I was terrified of answering the phone and constantly looking for another job. I now train new hires and i try to ease them in. I hated feeling like it was sink or swim. I try to let my trainees know I've got their back.


Q:

Have you noticed an increase at all of accidental emergency dials with the "ease" of doing so from smart phones?

A:

SO MUCH. Ahem, sorry... yes! It probably accounts for nearly 50 percent of our calls.


Q:

When I am 10 minutes away from the end of my shift, and 3 other trucks just came on - Why do I get the fucking non-emergent transfer for SNF > dialysis?

Edit: I'm only kidding. I would never want to upset the EMS god. (but seriously though... WTFtransfer)

A:

Because the Lord of EMS/Fire is displeased with your offering of 12 hours! Bwahahaha!