I work for a department that takes most of the cellular 911 calls for my state. Yesterday there was a lot of interest in what exactly happens when you dial 911 on your cell phone, where the call goes, what is the most direct way to receive help in an emergency, etc.

I am happy to answer any questions that I can. Ask away!

Edit: Ok guys, I need to wrap this up for the time-being, but I will come back and try to answer as many questions as I can! You guys have been amazing and I can't believe how much this AmA blew up! Thank you for a great day!

Comments: 1653 • Responses: 89  • Date: 

MustardPhilosophy899 karma

What was the longest you stayed on the phone with one person and why?
Also, was there a time when you feel you made a bad judgement and feel guilty about it?

2_minutes_in_the_box2858 karma

My longest call was probably the time that I received a call from a woman calling me just "mom."

I knew something was wrong, and she hadn't just dialed a wrong number, because she kept talking about her birthday despite my questions. Weird, I know, but you can just sort of tell when something isn't right.

I could hear her boyfriend telling her they needed to go, and stayed on the phone, asking her random questions I could think of to make it really seem like her mom was on the phone, then asking her other, more pertinent questions, with yes or no possible responses.

Eventually I determined her location down to the street, but she was outside with her boyfriend and the police couldn't find her! On a hunch, I asked her if she was smoking a cigarette, and she said yes. I told her to ash it really high and out from her body, and had my coworker relay that information to the town's dispatch. The patrol officer saw the light and smoke from the cigarette and found her.

Afterwards I learned she had been in a bad domestic altercation and was afraid for her life. She was sent home safely and the man was taken into custody.

Edit: Oh wow thank you guys for the gold!

gorammitMal1244 karma

Well done! I don't know many dispatchers who would be that clever to catch on and figure out a way to communicate effectively like that that quickly. This is a story to be proud of.

2_minutes_in_the_box851 karma

Thank you for that =)

elgolem23 karma

this was an excellent job and i dont want to take away from that but they teach this in basic calltaker.

2_minutes_in_the_box53 karma

I know. That's my call =)

possofazer240 karma

Kudos for her for that ingenuity in that situation.

2_minutes_in_the_box189 karma


StinkybuttMcPoopface236 karma

Holy shit. I've never wished I could hug someone on Reddit more in my life. I know in your line of work, doing a good job can mean the difference between life and death, but other dispatchers could have very easily dismissed the call, and this young woman could have had a very different ending to that night. You're fucking awesome!

2_minutes_in_the_box70 karma

Aw thank you so much!

HYUBN169 karma

Outstanding work.

2_minutes_in_the_box151 karma

Thank you!

Kapzlock132 karma

Oh man, that is awesome. This has to be one of the most amazing things I've read, -ever-.

2_minutes_in_the_box134 karma

Wow that was very nice of you to say, thank you!

carmicdy48 karma

This technique was stressed when I took a Emergency Dispatch class, I was amazed how many times it happens.

2_minutes_in_the_box27 karma

These calls can be tricky and easily missed, so training in how to handle them is definitely essential.

Manutlo16 karma

What does ash it really high mean? ((Non native English speaker here..)

2_minutes_in_the_box15 karma

I had her hold her cigarette in her hand, and raise her hand in the air so that the officer could easily spot her.

zennz29412 karma

Sorry to highjack your top comment, but I'd like this to be seen:

I'm a 911 dispatcher too, and we have a great community over at /r/911dispatchers. We're often forgotten about, and love to talk about what we do with other people.

2_minutes_in_the_box64 karma

I love this! I will be commenting there soon!

NekoQT773 karma

Whats the most haunting call you've ever taken??

2_minutes_in_the_box1964 karma

I was working a double shift one night and was about 2 hours into the second half of it. It had been a relatively quiet night up until that point, when out of nowhere all of the phones started to ring at once. This is not unusual, as most public emergencies yield several calls for the same incident.

It turns out that there was an active shooter at a gentelmen's club in our area, and most of the callers were hostages in the building. My caller had hidden himself in a back room, and eventually (against my instructions) opened the door to check on the situation. He was shot and died right there on the phone with me.

NekoQT848 karma

Holy shit

I'm sorry to hear that

2_minutes_in_the_box874 karma

Thank you, I was somewhat new at the time and have developed a pretty thick skin over the years =)

NekoQT538 karma

Yeah i bet

Now, do you have any uplifting stories??

2_minutes_in_the_box1055 karma

I do!

I was working an evening shift when I received a call from a young girl stating that her mother's boyfriend had driven off with her baby brother. After calming her down and speaking to her for a short time, I was able to determine that the mother's boyfriend had taken the infant without the mother's permission and had driven off in his vehicle. And, no, there was no car seat.

My coworker called the local department and I continued relaying information to them through her while keeping the girl on the phone. We ran his information and got a registration number for the vehicle and police had him detained a short while after. All in all the call lasted about 30 minutes.

Baby was just fine and was returned to mommy and sister!

_Not_Bruce_Wayne_204 karma

I, like many people here, only know 911 operators from movies. In the movie The Call, there was a sort of Panic room for the phone operators to go calm down in after a devastating call. do you have one of those? what's it like? is it effective?

2_minutes_in_the_box415 karma

No, there is no panic room lol. I've never actually heard of a panic room for dispatchers... or police officers, for that matter.

There is usually some sort of an Employee Relations number to call if you are upset for whatever reason about a call or work in general. These people are completely confidential and help to just calm the personnel down. I guess they are sort of the panic room over the phone.

Nogginboink106 karma

Interesting. I took a tour recently of a home alarm monitoring center at my company, and the call takers there do have a 'de-stress' room for just this purpose.

doktorcrash178 karma

And that would be the difference between public and private services. I'm not trying to be cynical but it's pretty true.

2_minutes_in_the_box32 karma

Most likely, yes.

callux681 karma

Can you guys trace a call if someone screams "Help, I need help...." and then is cut off?

2_minutes_in_the_box781 karma

Yes we can, as long as it is a registered phone.

crackacola203 karma


2_minutes_in_the_box275 karma

Any phone with a phone plan and/or minutes is considered active. When an active phone dials 911, the phone number and carrier comes up on our screen. If we call the service provider for information and there is subscriber information such as name and address, we consider it a registered phone.

quirkas85 karma

How can you tell if your phone has a registered address with 911?

2_minutes_in_the_box85 karma

If the phone is active, the number will come up on our screen, along with what provider the phone is under. We then call that provider (verizon, sprint, etc.) and get the address, if any.

medicaustik636 karma

I am a paramedic and firefighter, and while we tend to get all of the glory, we could not do our jobs as effectively without our dispatch and communications team. You all are equally important in saving lives, and I hope you always remember that!

We love you all :)

2_minutes_in_the_box289 karma

Aw thank you so much! It's so great to hear that =)

MustardPhilosophy517 karma

Do you ever follow up with what happens after the phone call? I imagine it must be frustrating not knowing whether help arrived on time etc.

2_minutes_in_the_box729 karma

It is extremely frustrating! And yes, on rare occasion my curiosity will get the best of me and I will call the local department to ask how everything turned out.

GallifreyKangaroo472 karma

I used to work graveyards at a gas station. One night this douche canoe came up there because his wife was in my store and he was trying to start a fight. I called 911 and set the phone down on the counter and kept telling the dude he needed to get the fuck out of my store. Cops showed up fast, arrested him for being drunk and domestic violence. The dispatcher called me back and told me I did the right thing. That was cool.

2_minutes_in_the_box243 karma

I agree!

Stummi239 karma

And they are telling you?

2_minutes_in_the_box382 karma

Definitely. We all try to work together between departments. The names/places/identifying details are all confidential between law enforcement agencies.

medicb465 karma

What's the strangest way you've helped someone?

2_minutes_in_the_box1324 karma

I helped an old lady program her cable box because it was slow and I felt really bad for her.

Cinnamahn678 karma

This reminds me of the spongebob episode when spongebob abuses the conch signal to make mermaid man and barnacle boy do a bunch of random shit for him

2_minutes_in_the_box317 karma

Ha! I saw that one too.

I_eat_cheeto_4_lunch207 karma

Lol so she called 911 and thought it was Comcast? Do people call you for receipes or anything?

2_minutes_in_the_box401 karma

No recipes, but you would faint at the number of calls we get asking for school cancellations or trick-or-treat times.

hirschey112341 karma

When my cousin was little he called 911 and reported child abuse because my aunt was making him do his homework.

ashabanapal208 karma

I hope they threw the book at her.

2_minutes_in_the_box277 karma

That's a life sentence right there.

2_minutes_in_the_box37 karma

Yep that sounds like a call I've taken.

Meoowth457 karma

Who is the youngest person that has called you during an emergency (not playing around with a phone), and how did you communicate with them? I've heard stories of very young children calling 911 successfully.

Also, would you say that the recent transition from landlines to cell phones has caused problems for the police?

Thanks so much!

2_minutes_in_the_box991 karma

I have successfully helped a 3-year-old stabilize her mom after having a seizure. She was soooo smart. I had a coworker trace her cell phone while I stayed on the line and (this was one of the calls I checked up on) mom and daughter were just fine!

unicornsatan332 karma

whats the funniest call you have ever taken?

2_minutes_in_the_box762 karma

There are so many lol.

I had someone call and tell me that the lord spoke through him and gave him special powers, and now he was worried the fbi was going to get him because he shut down twitter with his mind. He was actually pretty nice, though obviously unbalanced.

Another woman used to call all the time because people were shooting laser beams at her through her walls. I mean all the time. We got to know her pretty well.

unicornsatan147 karma

haha crazy! i feel pretty sorry for these people though - thanks for the reply :)

2_minutes_in_the_box159 karma

It's an interesting job, I'll say that!

Tutterz71 karma

How do you handle that sort of situation? I assume there is rules in place not allowing you to just hang up on people so how do you get them off the phone?

2_minutes_in_the_box120 karma

We do what we can to trace the call and get the caller's home address. Then we make a notation of the situation for the other dispatchers to see if that person calls again, sort of a heads-up. We notify the local dispatch and they will usually send a car to make sure the person is ok.

aAscii46 karma

Is this a normal-ish kind of thing you people get calls about, or is this only where you live?

2_minutes_in_the_box99 karma

I'd say this is pretty standard. A lot of people don't have anyone else to talk to so they call us.

megmatthews20310 karma

I'm actually thinking about becoming a 9-1-1 dispatcher. What was the process like for getting the job? Also, do you find you have a pretty morbid sense of humor to deal with some of the terrible things you have to deal with?

2_minutes_in_the_box401 karma

The process, in my experience, is usually a long one. There is usually a background check, some sort of typing and cognitive thinking test, interviews and an initial drug screen. It's not difficult, but it can be lengthy.

Yes, I have developed quite the morbid sense of humor working here. You have to have thick skin in order to listen to the names and slurs that some of these people throw at you.

Madmar14303 karma

Hah. I'm an onstar rep who takes emergency calls... We all have a horribly sick humour and often need to tone it down when trainees come aboard so as to not scare them away.

2_minutes_in_the_box314 karma

We talk to you guys all the time!

scribbleswithsharpie61 karma

How does it it work when someone calls onstar with an emergency? Do they route it to you, or does the onstar person stay on the call?

2_minutes_in_the_box83 karma

They do route to us, on our two-way line (comes through on the same emergency console as 911 calls).

seafood10207 karma

I think an AMA by an onstar rep would be pretty cool! You handle both emergencies and stupid people asking dumb questions, ingredients for a great AMA!

EDIT: Link to AMA Request.

2_minutes_in_the_box65 karma

I would love to read this.

my2penniesworth80 karma

My sister's neighbor, an elderly woman, was backing her car out of her driveway. Whatever happened, the car suddenly accelerated backwards (people heard a revving engine sound coming from behind the house) and she went across her back lawn and into a lake.

My understanding is that the action alerted the OnStar people and they were able to talk to her but the car sank and the woman died before she could be pulled out. I have always wondered what affect it had on the OnStar person who was talking/listening to the elderly lady that day.

EDIT: Do the police ask you for tape recordings of those kind of calls?

2_minutes_in_the_box40 karma

I imagine that was a very very sad call for that rep. I don't know much about OnStar but someone else suggested an ama and I think that would be a great idea.

The courts do ask for those tapes, yes. I have been to court several times for calls I've taken.

I_eat_cheeto_4_lunch90 karma

Is the pay good and what is the education requirement

2_minutes_in_the_box156 karma

The pay is pretty good and there is a lot of opportunity for overtime, so that's nice. The requirement is just a high school diploma, though most of us have college degrees.

elition109 karma

HS diploma, pay is very good for not requiring a college degree.

2_minutes_in_the_box123 karma


ReshyOne157 karma

The department I work for (Also 9-1-1 for a city of about 300k) it takes upto 4-6 weeks for the hiring process.

Initial Application > Skills Test (Typing / Listening / Multitask) > 1st Interview > Background Check > Psych Eval > Polygraph > Drug Test > 2nd Interview (Usually a panel of 3 people) > Then finally a job offer.

So yeah its a lengthy process

2_minutes_in_the_box103 karma

This is very accurate.

captainskybeard295 karma


2_minutes_in_the_box645 karma

About half of our calls are non-emergencies that warrant no police response. These can be hang-ups, pranks, pocket-dials, children playing with the phone, etc.

I have heard of people being charged but I've never actually seen it happen. It should.

We get pranks constantly. Some are funny, some are a huge waste of time, and some are really really annoying. i.e. we get a lot of kids who call up and just scream at the top of their lungs as soon as we pick up, causing me to go mildly deaf for a few minutes. Their parents are doing it wrong...

nucleophile107239 karma

I'm surprised with the gravity of your job you find any of them funny. Are there any that are worthy to share?

2_minutes_in_the_box470 karma

You really have to learn to laugh at some of these calls or else you'll find yourself in a very monotonous and depressed state. A lot of the calls are not pretty.

Some of the calls are pretty hilarious.

There is one lady who calls every 6 months or so to tell us that Chuck Norris is stalking her. Yes, the Chuck Norris. Then she must go back on whatever medication she is prescribed, because we won't hear from her for another 6 months after that.

Another call (not mine) we had was a man who stated vampires were roaming his city and hiding where we could not see them. He knew this because one of them was in his pocket. In his pocket.

And then there are always Twitter Kid and Laser Beam Lady.

ReshyOne148 karma

The agency I work for actually charged someone with abuse / misuse of 9-1-1 earlier this year. It was a gentleman (I use that term loosely) who constantly called 9-1-1 and made lewd comments and cussed at the call takers who answered. He was spoofing his phone # to appear from various businesses and such but we knew his name. An investigation was started and after having most of the call takers make statements and such they issued a warrant and he was picked up about 3-4 weeks later.

That stopped the calls for about 7 months, and I heard hes started calling again a few weeks ago, but not as often.

2_minutes_in_the_box133 karma

We had the exact same situation taking place for over 2 years, but it was a non-provisional phone, so it took that long to track him down! It turns out he was very mentally ill so he was never charged, though his caretaker did take his phone away.

dspman11137 karma

I pocket-dialed 911 once without realizing it, and the dispatcher actually called me back to ensure I wasn't in need of help. Which was nice, but freaked me the hell out because I was alone in a park in the middle of the night and I began getting paranoid and then sprinted to the nearest area with lights and people.

2_minutes_in_the_box70 karma

Haha well I'm glad you were ok!

ShouldersofGiants10039 karma

Care to elaborate on the funny pranks? Any particularly good or that stand out in your memory?

2_minutes_in_the_box84 karma

The prank ones are not very funny, because they usually involve a child calling in a bomb threat or something of that nature. I have had a few oldies-but-goodies, asking me if Prince Albert is in a can, etc., but the intentional pranks are more irritating than funny.

Hunhund225 karma

Fellow 911 'patcher, here. Just wanted to say thanks for doing this; people need more insight into what we do.

2_minutes_in_the_box158 karma

Thank you! I can't believe how big this blew up. Definitely didn't think there was enough curiosity about this for the front page. I'm glad we can help people understand the process better!

TheKloKloYo222 karma

What happens if you want a caller to stay on the line and they hang up? Do you/can you attempt to call them back?

Are there any sort of metrics or "goals" to hit?

Are you in an automatic queue where calls come in back to back, or do you have to pick up the line?

2_minutes_in_the_box458 karma

Protocol is to always call every call back, as long as it is a viable number.

No real goals to hit, but our call volume steadily increases every year, so it's all we can do to keep up.

There is an automatic queue when we receive an incoming call. This is why it is so important for people to realize that 911 is for emergencies only, and children should never be allowed to play with a cell phone that has battery power. Even a disconnected one. When a child is pranking 911 with calls back to back, our queue increases. If someone is choking, that 30 second queue could mean the difference between life and death.

saltyjohnson213 karma

What if I have a non-emergency situation in which I still want an officer sent to the scene (break-in, etc), but I can't find the local non-emergency number. Is it acceptable (I know it's not ideal) to call 911 and simply open with "This is not an emergency, you can place me on hold" in case there are other emergency calls behind me in the queue?

2_minutes_in_the_box245 karma

It is always acceptable to dial 911 if you need police/ambulance/fire sent to your location at that moment. We have protocols in place to make sure that everyone needing help gets assistance.

Cyridius9 karma

You call your local police department. Most of them are assholes and just reroute your straight to 911 in which case it isn't your fault and just detail the situation, but you're only meant to call 911 for emergencies.

Edit; Apparently my reading comprehension is terrible. Go on.

Edit 2; You can call 911 for any situation which may cause an accident or develop into an emergency. If someone broke into your house, call 911 because he still might be there. If there's a car disabled on the highway out in the middle of the road, call 911 because there might be a crash. And so on and so forth.

2_minutes_in_the_box4 karma

Most small departments will ask you call their business line if it is not a life-or-death emergency, but if you have any doubts, dial 911. Trust me, we will let you know if your call is not an emergency ;)

pwn67189 karma

Can it get depressing to take calls from people close to death or, as you said happened before, a person dying on call? Also what is the most stressful call you have had? Thank you for doing this AMA btw :)

2_minutes_in_the_box264 karma

Yes, there is a huge turnover at my workplace, and in this profession in general. Those people who have thick skin end up lasting, and those that don't usually move on to other fields. Those of us who have been here long enough aren't phased by much.

My most stressful call was probably this.

Dontleave165 karma

No question, just thanks for providing EMTs like myself with accurate information. :)

2_minutes_in_the_box132 karma

Absolutely, and thank you for your service in the field!

desynchronize158 karma

Just like in the movie "the call" have you ever had to guide someone to prevent their death?

2_minutes_in_the_box337 karma

Yes I have. I have walked a few people out of the woods using the best mapping location that I could get at the time and talking to local authorities who knew the areas. I've also stayed on the line with several people who were in bulidings/houses hiding from someone. You just try to keep everyone calm and stay on the line as long as you have to.

Demokrates140 karma

Is it true, that a 911 call gets recorded, as soon as the last number is dialed, even though there is no calltaker on the other end yet?

2_minutes_in_the_box214 karma

Yes. As soon as you dial that last "1" the call comes through. If you hang up right away before we answer, we call that an "abandoned" call, and we call you back. If you call and hang up after we answer, it is simply a "hang-up" call. We also call these back.

BaconBoss1133 karma

What's the funniest/most fucked up call you've taken or what's the strangest thing someone has requested

2_minutes_in_the_box316 karma

I had one person that insisted there was a German family living behind her couch. She was describing what they were wearing to me and everything. Turns out she had dimentia, but because she didn't know where she was, the call took a long time to track down.

anon_g12124 karma


Hunhund177 karma

I'll answer this one in case OP doesn't ( I am also a 911 call taker, by trade), the MOST important thing for us is your location. We don't even have to know what's going on, as long as we know where to send someone, we're already satisfied. The main things we like/need to know, concern the safety of the scene; are there weapons? Hazards? How many people involved? Any injuries? These are the most important bits of info to us.

Edit: English lol

2_minutes_in_the_box151 karma

Yes, location location LOCATION. At least we know where to send someone. Great answer Hunhund.

2_minutes_in_the_box106 karma

The best and most efficient way to reach 911 is through a land line phone. They will have all your information on screen and will definitely have to send a patrol car.

The best way on a cell phone is to have your local police department's direct number saved in your phone. Then realize, if you call from a cell phone, you are most likely going to be transferred a second time in order to get you to the proper department. The faster the better, so when they ask you for your information a simple location and nature of your emergency is best.

manbear666118 karma

Have you ever had a call about someone who had something up their butt?

2_minutes_in_the_box164 karma


I had one where a man had a mayonnaise jar stuck up there, and a few where someone had a prolapsed anus.

Also, coworker of mine once had a call for a prolapsed vagina.

manbear666105 karma

I regret what I'm about to google image search. Edit: O.O That was much more intense than I was prepared for.

2_minutes_in_the_box29 karma

Yes, they are always... interesting... calls.

abcdrape93 karma

Was this your first choice of job? If not, what would you rather be doing? And thanks for doing the job, it sounds like there can be a lot of sad things.

2_minutes_in_the_box141 karma

Thanks for that!

This was my first choice job. I was actually a patrol officer for a couple of years when I first started dispatching. I would split my time between the desk and the road. I prefer the desk.

junkie_ego92 karma

Assuming that there have been people fired in the duration of your time in this role, what is the most common cause for dismissal?

Are there any times of calls you receive most frequently? I mean, obviously they're generally emergencies.. hoping that question made sense...

2_minutes_in_the_box135 karma

Probably just the normal reasons for termination. They missed a lot of work, or were constantly showing up late, things like that. Nothing too serious comes to mind.

We receive a lot of pocket dials. Also, a lot of children playing with the phones and misdials. For real emergencies, our most common calls are probably auto accidents and ambulance requests. Boring, I know lol.

Bittitibit86 karma

Is it true that you have a "how to book" in front of you that you consult for some esoteric emergencies? Or is this computerized? Can you give me an example when you had to consult it?

Besides the ambulance and fire department, what other entities do you have to call mostly?

2_minutes_in_the_box108 karma

There is a book for Emergency Medical Dispatch, or EMD. It is mostly going to computerized versions with drop-down lists, but many departments still have the book. We don't do that here, though. We actually put the caller on directly with a company that exclusively takes 911 callers and gives them medical instructions until an ambulance arrives at their location. I am, however, trained and certified in Emergency Medical Dispatch, so technically I could give pre-arrival instructions.

You would consult this book to give pre-arrival instructions to anyone who was awaiting medical transport. A good example would be a woman in labor, or instructing someone on how to properly put pressure on a wound.

We have to direct people everywhere. I could be transferring them to a local department, a highway patrol barracks, an ambulance, a fire department, the fbi, cia, wildlife control, another state's police, poison control... well, you get where I'm going with this. Anywhere and everywhere.

Legend24973 karma

By any chance is your username an ice hockey reference?

2_minutes_in_the_box103 karma

Haha yes it is.

thatchersbritain72 karma

Based on documentaries in the UK and speaking with someone who doss your job here, facebook has caused a huge rise in stupid unnecessary calls. What's the dumbest youve heard?

2_minutes_in_the_box172 karma

We get a lot of calls saying someone on facebook is going to kill themselves. In the end it turns out they wrote something like "life sucks" on their status. Not exactly a death threat. Most of the time it's from people who don't actually know them, but have only met them through facebook, so they don't have any contact information for the person, either.

I did have someone call and say that their neighbor "turned off my facebook." Their internet was down.

DoctorFaps68 karma

What was the most ridiculous call you've ever received and was it hard to keep a straight face while talking to the person?

2_minutes_in_the_box226 karma

Sometimes it is very, very hard to keep a straight face lol. I take a lot of ridiculous calls, but one in particular that stands out is this man that would always call about everything. His neighbor was walked across his driveway, which he felt was not part of the continuing sidewalk for some reason. Kids were walking too noisily on their way to the bus stop. People were coughing on the subway, which he felt was a "biohazard." He also calls a lot to ask if certain businesses in his town are open, and to report them when they are not open during what he feels are reasonable hours.

turbodude6984 karma

how is this not illegal? what a fucking douche.

2_minutes_in_the_box85 karma

Oh how I wish it was.

ConstantPanic22 karma

I definitely would not have the patience for that type of thing.

2_minutes_in_the_box25 karma

It's taxing at times, definitely.

blondesophie67 karma

so do you generally do the day or the night shift? if you have done both, that time is usually the busiest?

2_minutes_in_the_box110 karma

I started on the "mid" shift, which is overnights, 1030pm-630am. I am currently on the day shift, which starts at 6:30am. I have also done some time on the eve shift, 2:30-10:30.

Our busiest time during the day shift is between 7 and 10, the commuter times. On the eve shift it's the same, 4-8, the commuter time, is busiest. On the overnight shift, the busiest time is usually around 1-3am, when the bars close.

Eamonohare64 karma

Has anyone ever called to turn themselves in?

2_minutes_in_the_box74 karma

All the time. They will call and just tell me they committed a certain crime. I put the call into the local police and they go pick them up (if they're still/actually there).

dcd00d59 karma

This may not be as much a question as it is venting but here goes. Two days ago on my way to work around 0530 I was driving behind a clearly intoxicated driver. I followed for a while hoping he would stop somewhere but when hit hit a guardrail and just kept going I had enough. I pulled off the highway and reluctantly called 911. The operator spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time asking me personal info like how to spell my name, my phone number, what I was driving etc. Finally he told me this was outside his jurisdiction and had to transfer me to the state police dispatcher, where this process started all over again. Remember I'm pulled over and by now this car is who knows how far ahead of me or where he turned. Why did the original dispatcher seem to waste so much time when he could have just transferred me to begin with? edit: autocorrect nonsense

2_minutes_in_the_box60 karma

This is a situation of protocols. Our protocol is to get your location and emergency and transfer you to the right people who will dispatch your help. Some departments seem to have really in-depth call intake procedures. I don't really understand why they would ask you all of that before confirming that you were in their jurisdiction. They seem to have jumped the gun on that one.

Whiteb0ii58 karma

Do you imagine working as a calltalker for a long time?

And if so, is there a promotion you can get for a better job, involving this kind of work?

Enjoyed reading this AMA, thanks.

2_minutes_in_the_box98 karma

Thanks for that.

Yes, I will probably remain here for a long time. I've been working in this field for about 12 years now, so I don't see that changing any time soon. We have supervisors, and then there is one head supervisor per station. Those positions are a lot more stress and barely any more money, so I'm good with my position now ;)

cocoram52 karma

In what order would you prefer I tell you things like my name, address, what I'm calling for, who I need, etc?

2_minutes_in_the_box77 karma

Well, we can see your phone number on the screen in most cases. So the most important thing to give me is your location. Followed by the nature of your emergency, then if there are any injuries, how many people are involved. etc.

But if you give me your location, I can send you help.

IAmA_Dispatcher50 karma

Glad to see you're getting some exposure on this AMA!

Checkout /r/911dispatchers if you haven't already.

What is your call volume like? I'm at a consolidated center and we are the PSAP for our county and handle all cell and most landline 911 calls, handle approx 16 fire depts, 11 police, a handful of specialty depts and private ambulance so we can get pretty busy ourselves!

2_minutes_in_the_box21 karma

Oh wow I had no idea about that subreddit! Thank you!

Our volume is pretty heavy. We're in the multiples of millions yearly and ever increasing. We transfer the majority of the cell calls for the state, so it's fast paced over here! You guys sound really really busy as well. Isn't it nice to see everyone taking an interest in our field?

salmonofdoubt50 karma

My mom called 911 once because her neighbor went crazy and blew through her front door with a shotgun and was essentially holding her husband hostage. She had gotten out of the house and heard gunshots. So she was probably freaking out. She was talking to the 911 operator and they operator kept asking her to spell her name and spell the name of her street. Do you think they were doing that to distract her or help her focus? I just never understood why spelling the names of this would be helpful.

2_minutes_in_the_box74 karma

They probably had a difficult time understanding her if she was scared. You don't realize how hard it can be to hear someone clearly over the phone until you are talking to someone who is in imminent danger. The street address is so so important because we need to start you help as soon as possible. Her name, in this case, is also very important, as would have been your neighbor's name. If he had actually shot her and she was hurt, we need to know who she is and who shot her.

hocktag45 karma

How many of you work at the same time?

Are you all set up in the same room?

What call has left ths most lasting impact?

Thanks for the AMA!

2_minutes_in_the_box128 karma

In my particular center we run between 8-14 call takers at a time. We are all in the same room, in half-cubicles. We communicate out loud with each other all the time about incoming calls.

I knew the lasting impact question would come up.

So I had been working at this center for a few years when one night, the phones started going nuts. We were receiving a ton of calls about a woman who walked out into (heavy and very fast) traffic with 3 small children. The woman was hit and died, and two of the children died as well. Obviously, as one could assume, this woman had some serious mental health issues.

The worst part wasn't taking those calls. The worst part was the call I took later in the night when I found out that one of the children that dies wasn't hers, it was her brother's. The father had to find out all of this over 911. It was heartbreaking.

Sheehan735 karma

I used to have a phone without a flip and just buttons in the front that I stupidly kept in my back pocket. I but dialed 911 twice and one time the state police called me and the other time an ambulance came driving around to were I was fishing. Is this some type of protocol?

2_minutes_in_the_box64 karma

I'm not sure why an ambulance would be dispatched unless it sounded like you were in distress. Perhaps they heard it on the police scanner and were in the area?

Usually, the police will just call you back to try to determine if you are ok.

rarely_safe_for_work31 karma

Have you ever taken a call from somebody who seemed apathetic about the situation? Almost as if they didn't care what was going on? How did you feel about that?

2_minutes_in_the_box41 karma

All the time. I had a guy call and say his girlfriend OD'd and I almost didn't quite believe it was true because he was so nonchalant about it.

It was true.

alikidisciple28 karma

I am considering getting into this profession. What would you advise to prepare for it?

2_minutes_in_the_box67 karma

Practice multitasking. If you cannot multitask, you cannot dispatch. We have to answer a call, start a trace sheet, use another line to call a cell company, use another computer to run a license plate/license number, etc., all at once. It's not impossible or even terribly difficult, but it is absolutely essential to the job. We have had several people not make it through the probation period because they were simply incapable of doing that many things at once. It isn't a bad thing, but if you can't multitask, this profession is not for you.

stingray067824 karma

Have you ever had a call where a person killed themselves while taking to you?

2_minutes_in_the_box25 karma

Yes, more than I can count.

joca6320 karma

What information should someone give you and how to make the process of getting aid as effecient as possible?

2_minutes_in_the_box22 karma

The best and most efficient way to reach 911 is through a land line phone. They will have all your information on screen and will definitely have to send a patrol car.

The best way on a cell phone is to have your local police department's direct number saved in your phone. Then realize, if you call from a cell phone, you are most likely going to be transferred a second time in order to get you to the proper department. The faster the better, so when they ask you for your information a simple location and nature of your emergency is best.

zwind16 karma

I read your comment on how one person didn't listen to your instructions and ended up dead, how often do people not listen to what you tell them to do?

2_minutes_in_the_box22 karma

A lot. Some people are too upset to listen, and some people just do not agree with what I am telling them. Most of the time, though, they usually do as instructed.

bustednugget9 karma

What's the longest call you have ever taken?

2_minutes_in_the_box12 karma

It was probably a little over an hour.

bustednugget12 karma

Good call on making her make a signal

2_minutes_in_the_box10 karma


DJBpayne7 karma

Do officers take their time arriving to potentially violent areas/cities after a distress call?

2_minutes_in_the_box11 karma

Definitely not. These things are all timed to the second. They get there as quickly as possible. The sooner a situation is diffused, the less chance someone gets really hurt.

[deleted]3 karma


2_minutes_in_the_box12 karma

Proof sent to mods!