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Specialized ProfessionIamA 911 Operator, AMA!

Jun 7th 2017 by 911_AMA • 25 Questions • 113 Points

Hello! I am a 911 operator for a dispatch center that covers Fire and Medical for the entire county, as well as Police for 7 cities within that county. We receive about 2,000 to 4,000 calls everyday on 911 as well as our non-emergency line. I average about 70 calls per 8 hour shift, with approximately half being 911 and half non-emergency. I'd love to answer any questions as there are way too many misconceptions about what happens on our end of the line! Ask away!

http://imgur.com/a/1gwrC

Q:

What's the most ridiculous situation you've gotten a call about?

A:

I actually had one just today where a guy called 911 because his smoke detector was chirping and he couldn't reach it. He was requesting we send a tower fire engine out just to change the smoke alarm on his vaulted ceiling

I also had another guy who was instructing me on this entire sting operation he "needed" the police to do. He wanted two unmarked police cars to come around the back and to have another officer come through the front to purposely try and chase out the suspect who would "have" to run out through the back, all so we could catch the man who flipped him off and sped in front of him.


Q:

He said "ridiculous," not "justified." My heart breaks for that poor man, his vaulted ceiling, and the chirping smoke detector, and I don't believe that you just let somebody who flipped a guy off and sped away get away like that. What were your resources spent on instead, unimportant stuff like catching murderers and rapists? When we've got bird-runners like that guy walking the streets? Shame on you.

A:

Hahaha believe it or not they actually called someone out to bring a ladder for that man! Lmao you would not believe the amount of people who call in a little road rage incident like that then call back pissed off because "it's been 15 minutes WHERE is the officer??" as if we should just take them off that armed domestic to go chase down the bird-runner lights and sirens


Q:

Swing and a miss.

A:

Hahah I honestly wish more people would just give the finger and move on instead of calling 911 because "he didn't signal and his plates are expired".


Q:

When my sister was house shopping many years ago, one place had damage to the sheet rock on a 2nd story vaulted ceiling room. The neighbors told her later that it was because the smoke alarm had gone off, false alarm (dead batteries or something) but the homeowner refused to buy a ladder for something as insignificant as a smoke alarm. So, the fire dept had to run a ladder through a second-story window, to the top of this vaulted ceiling, to change the batteries. Homeowner was pretty ticked that they damaged the Sheetrock... #smh

A:

Hahaha at least he was sensible enough to know he just needed a ladder instead of requesting an entire tower engine come to somehow change the alarm


Q:

First and foremost, I would like to thank you for what you do.

My question is what made you get into this line of work? Was this always your first choice or did you originally want to do something different?

A:

Why thank you very much!

I want to go into Law Enforcement, Criminal Investigator specifically, but I'm currently still 19 and have to be 21 to join the police academy in my area. I figured this job would be a great stepping stone into what I want to do, especially since I'm going to be training in Police Dispatch in a few months


Q:

how did you land the job?

A:

There's a huge turnover rate in my center so it's really as simple as passing an entry test, having a high school diploma/GED, and passing a fairly extensive background check. The thing that really weeds out the fit from the unfit for the job is the training process. When people start to realize that they don't like the job, can't do the job, or are getting low performance reviews, they rarely stay to finish further months of training.


Q:

Being so young how do you handle the worst parts of life 8hrs/day

A:

I think too many people only look at the negative aspect of the job. Dealing with certain situations can be stressful and definitely have a negative impact when you associate them with happening in your own life, but I believe they're balanced out by how often we're able to help people. I want to go into public service and I thought this job would be a great test run, and since then I've really come to enjoy the adrenaline that's a byproduct of stressful calls. I think enjoying at least some aspects of the stressful calls and taking pride in helping people outweighs the difficulty of dealing with certain situations, and is why I actually want to go back most days


Q:

Do you have any experience with children calling 911 for help?

A:

I probably get a serious call from a child about once a month, as opposed to accidental or prank calls from kids every day. The first thing I'll usually ask a child is if there's an adult I can talk to, and if not and they don't know their address I'll ask them to find a piece of mail and read it to me. That way I can at least get someone out to them and go from there. This is all assuming there's no history on their phone with an address

Worst case scenario if there's no call history and the child is too young to get an address in any way I can ping their cell phone, it's just a lengthy process


Q:

What kinda training do you have go through?

A:

You need to be certified in Emergency Medical, Fire, and Police dispatch (3 separate courses) as well as BCI (Bureau of Criminal Identification) certified, and become POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certified. This comes out to about 2 weeks of out of work classroom training.

In-work training is a month of lecture, protocol review, CAD training, and listening on other dispatchers/calltakers before ever touching the phones. After that you go through two different training phases over the next 3 months where you basically have a trainer monitoring all your calls and guiding you. When that's finished you take a test with a separate trainer that shows you can work on your own.

Once you're on your own there's about 50 tests to do over the next 3 months.

As for requirements, a simple High School Diploma/GED and the criminal background requirements for POST is all it takes


Q:

What is the most lame "emergency" that you got called for ?

A:

There used to be this woman who lived in an "upper class" part of town who would call in every week about a "suspicious" man walking down her street. This guy was always wearing a suit and walking in the same direction on Sunday (hm maybe going to church?) and she found it worthy of calling 911. After about the sixth or seventh time she called, she finally replied to the question "what's suspicious about the person?" with "well he's black and he doesn't belong in my neighborhood!". Needless to say the Sergeant went out to her home this time and told her not to call 911 about this. She still would call for the same thing on our non-emergency line every week for a few more times until the Sergeant put a hazard on the address instructing to just have him call the woman before dispatch


Q:

[deleted]

A:

The inherent loneliness of life's futile endeavors


Q:

I have a disabled and ill child. Everyone makes fun of the fact that we still have a land line, but this why. In a crisis. I want them to get to the house as soon as possible.

A:

I personally thank you for having a landline! It really speeds up the process of showing an address right away instead of playing the "turn right at the green house then left at the stop sign" game


Q:

We can always ask the officers, firefighters or paramedics if we are interested.

A:

There's very little I can see with the outcome of the call, but medical calls usually have the most information. I can see the patients status when the medics arrive (echo being dead for example), and I can see what time they transported them to the hospital and where they went. Once they get to the hospital though, it's beyond me


Q:

What are some of the lesser known languages you remember getting? And how would you even know what language it is to request an interpeter for?

A:

Most people seem to understand at least enough English to respond to "what language do you speak?" but if not we can get them to an operator with our interpreter service who will try to identify the language.

Some that stick out in my head would be Yoruba and Javanese (kept bringing on a Japanese interpreter when I would say Javanese)


Q:

hey do you get trained on detecting pranks? because you are either risking wasting resources on pranks or not helping someone just because they sounded like it was a prank. Which of those paths has 911 taken? I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be up to individual employees to decide

A:

The most important thing we look to is call history. If we find this phone has several calls (especially involving domestics) and we have enough for a good address, we'll send someone out. However, if there's no history, nothing alarming heard, and we don't have a very good location, we don't have the resources to send someone out looking for them. Even if we have a fairly accurate location like a 5 meter radius but there's nothing alarming heard and no phone history, we still won't usually send someone out (unless they call repeatedly). We constantly have calls waiting so spending resources on something that's most likely a kid playing with a phone will delay actual calls.

The decision of whether to go out is basically a combined determination between the call-taker, the dispatcher, and the police.


Q:

You average about 10 calls an hour, how long are the typical calls? What is the process for a call, like if I tell you what my emergency is, how do you know what to do? Example, I tell you I am trapped inside my basement and the door is jammed and I cannot escape.

A:

Most calls are between 1-3 minutes, but some are much longer when we have to stay on the phone. We have a set of protocols that we follow called ProQA that open up a line of questioning for a bunch of different scenarios, then it's just up to us to relay that info effectively and try to calm the caller enough to clearly answer.

If you said you were trapped in your basement I would first ask the entry questions for every call (location, phone, name, and what's happening), then I would launch the fire protocol for entrapment. There would be a series of questions relating to being trapped, then we could disconnect or stay on the line depending on the circumstances.

This can be difficult however when complaints become mixed. For example if you said "I'm trapped in my basement and I can see smoke coming through the door" I would go with the Structure Fire protocol, because smoke indoors is enough indication to assume there's a fire and a fire is higher priority than just being trapped


Q:

Questions are asked to gather as much pertinent information as possible for the benefit of the caller and responders. No, we don't need to ask questions until someone arrives but it will happen if the response time is short. There will be some calls where we are required to keep the caller on the phone until help arrives.

A:

Sort of. We have a series of questioning that we have to get through called ProQA, and after that we can disconnect if the situation isn't severe. However, if we have to stay on the line and have finished the questioning, we're taught to avoid as much dead air as possible. With some situations this can be rather difficult because there's not much more info to gain, but with most it's fairly easy. Some of my go-to's would be, with medical calls for example, "how is their breathing", "what's the best way to get to them?", "have they become any more alert?", "whats their name?".

With police calls it varies a lot, but for the most part I try to gain as many small details about the suspect I can and with domestics, I always get the name and date of birth of everyone involved.


Q:

What are some ways we can make it easier for you to do your job when we call? Any way to make it easier for you and thus quicker for us to receive help?

A:

Understanding that there are questions we have to ask in a specific order, and answering questions in the order they're asked. Every call starts off with "911, what is the address of the emergency?", and waaaay too many people completely miss the question. Even if you don't know the answer to something, saying "i don't know" is much much better than saying something completely unrelated


Q:

Always know your location. Answer any questions we ask. Those questions are not delaying the response.

A:

This x1000


Q:

Why did you go into that field?

A:

For me it's a stepping stone into Law Enforcement. I'm hoping to join police academy when I'm old enough.

As for why I chose this job specifically, it's because I wanted a job where I can do something at least a little bit different every day, and can feel proud about what I've done afterwards


Q:

A long question, but I'll bold the direct question if you're short on time.

I am a Criminal Justice student at my local college. I attend CTC regularly and hope to graduate soon. I currently have my Certificate of Completion in Criminal Justice though.

I've always considered being a 911 operator. My question is, What personal skills do you excel at that help you in your area of work? Does typing at 160WPM (my current record when typing/practicing for a day or two, but average 120WPM) help? I'm sure being a great multi-tasker helps as well, but what other personal things do you find that help you?

A:

Criminal Justice major here as well!

Wow 160 WPM is amazing!! My center actually only requires 40 WPM lmao I usually average about 100. Typing quickly definitely does help, but the most useful skills that you develop are summarizing really long statements into a few sentences and typing something while listening to something different and still comprehending it.

The most important skill outside of work I would say is to be able to involve yourself in a stressful situation without mimicking the intensity yourself. You need to be the calming or directing voice, and the more emotionally involved into a call you get the worse it tends to go.

Another important trait is being a good listener. It's really easy to start assuming you know the situation after taking so many similar calls, and then end up being completely wrong. Many calls are unique and you'll have a new one nearly every day, so being an active listener really helps


Q:

I find I can be pretty calm when working under stress. I used to work the front desk at a hotel and during the busy seasons we would sometimes have 20-30 people standing in the lobby waiting to check in. I've frequently been the only one working at that time as well, and handled it quite easily. This became easier as I gained more experience and became faster and efficient at my job.

Is this your experience? Has it become easier to remain calm and listen better to calls the more experience you got while working?

A:

Yes for sure. I think a big part of it is understanding your limitations and just doing the best you can. It can be stressful when it's really busy and you're taking calls back to back, but once you become more comfortable and confident with your abilities it becomes far less stressful.

I find it easy to remain calm especially after time, but the one thing that still bugs me is when people call for help about something that's not an emergency and are still irate and do everything they can to hinder the process


Q:

Hey What was the most terrifying / sad call you got?

A:

The most terrifying was a woman who locked herself in a shed because her crazy ex boyfriend was outside possibly with a gun. She was watching him through a crack and every time she'd say he was walking towards her I'd start thinking of any possible thing I could say if he came inside

The saddest call was a type of call that for some reason always gets to me, very elderly people finding their loved ones dead. This lady was in her 80's and kept saying "my best friend is gone forever" and telling me about how they where high school sweethearts. Was probably the hardest call for me to keep composure and figure out what to say


Q:

I think I wouldn't be the best calltaker, just reading this already hit me in the feelings

A:

Some situations can be pretty upsetting, but the ones where you can really help far make up for it. Having someone thank you for helping them in a situation that they thought they were completely helpless in is one of the most gratifying feelings. Even when people are agitated and berate you then hang up, it's still a good feeling when you know you helped them regardless


Q:

I heard it requires a lie detector test before you can be hired. What kind of questions do they ask and how nerve wracking is it?

A:

Some cities do but not with my agency. It's usually those that are directly associated with one specific police department that require it. With my center we just have to sign a waiver saying that if they did want to polygraph we consent, and we have to go through a lengthy background investigation.