badges as proof.

There was a front page AskReddit several weeks ago talking about under appreciated jobs, and being a dispatcher was on that list. I was asked to do an AMA, so I thought "why not?" while I am stuck at the airport for an indefinite amount of time.

FRONT PAGE?! That turned my bad day of being stuck at the airport into an awesome day! Thank you, Reddit!

Gold!!! Thank you, kind stranger!

Edit: I am finally about to go home after twelve hours! I will answer remaining questions when I can. Thank you for making this day a good one. :)

Comments: 1983 • Responses: 58  • Date: 

Jamesspratt1955 karma

You mentioned that you get a lot of pocket dials. How do you distinguish between a pocket dial and someone that has perhaps called 911 but is unable to talk either due to incapacitation, or because of the situation they are in?

For example someone is being abducted and has managed to call 911 by reaching in to their pocket but does not want to alert the kidnapper?

Also, what would you do in this situation.. Track the call? Is it even possible to track it accurately enough?

Thanks for doing this AMA :)

bella_morte1017 karma

We listen as long as the line is open to see if anything is alarming. We can ping your location (if the line is open long enough) almost completely accurately. It also depends on how many cell towers are around, and a few other factors. We incorporate all of that into the call. Most of our cities will send an officer out to that location for a hangup to check if everything is 10-4. I had one woman call me from a disconnected cell phone who was locked in the basement. It's the only time I've had someone call from a disconnected cell and have it be an actual emergency.

bobthemuffinman435 karma

You're telling me that you can triangulate the location given enough time? Hollywood is right?

bella_morte721 karma

We can be close, but it's not like Hollywood. And it comes up as a coordinate, not an address.

BlueJayBandwagoner566 karma

I have a friend who is a dispatcher and he can never talk about his calls because of confidentiality. Seems to always be in a shitty mood when the boys get together. How do the people in your life help you cope with the stress of knowing all these terrible things?

bella_morte637 karma

This is a great question. It's a burden everyone has to share and understand. It's great to have one person to unload with, but that is a hard position to be in. I volunteer in the community and do extra-curricular service to remind myself that there is still good in the world.

the_big_turtle146 karma

are dispatchers required to keep all calls confidential? or is that a rule that can be specific to the location they work in? my girlfriend's brother is a dispatcher but often shares stories about the calls he gets while working.

bella_morte238 karma

We cannot give specifics, like names, locations, plate numbers, etc. But I think sharing stories perpetuates education.

Slytherin4Lyfe468 karma

Are there any specific situations that you remember that have left a profound impact on your life?

bella_morte1287 karma

It's the small things for me - a little old man thanking me for reporting his car recovered, or child crying after their parent starts to breathe again. Preserving a life is just as important as saving one.

One specific one - there was a little old lady whose son was trying to break into her house and harm her. I stayed on the phone with her for almost thirty minutes while the police secured and scene and arrested him. She was very sweet. We talked about her grandchildren, what she was making for dinner, and other things. I am glad I was able to offer comfort in her terror.

p0x0rz299 karma

You only mention the positive scenarios...How are you changed by the negatives? My wife is also a dispatcher, and I can tell you that there have been some calls that have been hard to shake...Weeks later, still thinking about them.

bella_morte777 karma

Every time there is silence after yelling, I wait for a gunshot. No matter where I am.

p0x0rz192 karma

Yeah, some of the most consistently hard calls to take for my wife are anything involving family and domestic violence. When it comes to things like car accidents or accidents at work, there's an element of randomness to them...They're still hard to take, but it's not the same as exactly the kind of scenario you describe.

bella_morte443 karma

I can't take wailing parents. Kids I can handle, but hearing a parent mourn for a child gets me. I think it's because I'm childless and I can't even imagine anything happening to my imaginary children.

chronicallyfailed450 karma

How often do you get prank calls/other assholes?

bella_morte887 karma

I have never gotten a prank call, but NO JOKE, almost 60% of our call volume are pocket dials.

ChrisBPeppers269 karma

How do you know these aren't hostage situations? I'm guessing you'd have to listen for a while before deciding that it was a pocket dial?

bella_morte599 karma

We keep an open line for as long as we can while we get the approximate location. We have questions we can ask to determine if there is a questionable situation. I have only had a handful of times where a child will call and keep the line open so we can hear mom and dad fighting.

Dewyboy76 karma

As long as you can. I'm assuming you mean until there's another call waiting?

bella_morte142 karma

Yes, or unless we know it's a pocket dial or a child munching on the phone buttons.

Awesomenimity58 karma

Posted the following elsewhere in the thread to a dispatcher colleague of yours, but of course I want your thoughts as well.

My thoughts have always been to tap SOS in morse on the mic/phone to indicate that it's an emergency. Would you pick up on this?

bella_morte116 karma

I probably would not, but I do not know morse code, and I encounter way too many toddlers playing on the phone. I have seen people push buttons to indicate numbers when they can't speak, however. Like hitting a digit four times to indicate 4 as the first number of their address.

scubaguy19465 karma

pocket dial?

bella_morte121 karma

Yup. Lots and lots of accidental dials.

Pahnage148 karma

I worked at a retail store where on average someone would call 911 from the store once every couple months. You have to hit 9 to call out and then 1 for the area code. At that point you are one accidental double tap of 1 away from calling 911. Hanging up imediately doesn't do anything as the call still registers on 911's end and we receive a follow up call or a police visit to check things out.

bella_morte87 karma

Yup. There is probably a note in their system (like in ours) that says you have a history of hangups. That's our first clue. You're not the only one that has problems with that.

Nomisan71 karma


bella_morte95 karma

Yes, yes, yes. We have to call you back twice, it wastes so much time.

AnoiaDearheart60 karma

This has happened to me before with my iPhone 4s. It jostled in my pocket and somehow the emergency button on the corner was pressed. They called me back and I told them it must have been an accident haha, I felt terrible.

bella_morte105 karma

Thank you for actually answering! It's part of our protocol to call back twice and make sure you're okay. It goes faster if you just answer and give us the information we need, or better, secure your phone. :)

DevonDoesTomahawk403 karma

I don't know if you know the answer of this question, but here it goes:

If person A is unconscious and person B calls an ambulance on A. A woke up in hospital and find out that he owes thousands of dollars to the hospital, can he refuse to pay because he did not agree to the service? (again, he was unconscious) And will B be responsible to pay the ambulance fee since B is the one who call the ambulance?

bella_morte1161 karma

By being in a state of unconsciousness, he is giving what is called "implied consent", which means he can be treated to the necessary extent. As for the bills, well...pray they have insurance. Welcome to the American Healthcare system.

Great question, though - I haven't worked in a hospital, so I don't know anything past the pre-arrival care. Ask a nurse, they're the best.

Knowone_Knows430 karma

As someone who just finished my EMT-B training, I found it funny that implied consent also applies to unconscious attempted suicide victims.

bella_morte474 karma

Yup! Makes it easier than trying to talk someone into it, right? Especially if they can't answer back.

pothotatos405 karma


bella_morte387 karma


Wambulance_Driver295 karma

Dispatch, medic one, permission to use toilet?

bella_morte377 karma

Standby, medic one.

Fakename_fakeperspn287 karma

I was on a jury recently, and when the lady called 911, the dispatcher spent, literally and no joke, about 2 minutes of the call trying to understand the caller's name, ignoring the problem being reported.

What the hell was up with that? I couldn't keep a straight face :( It seemed wildly inappropriate

Edit: transcript removed

bella_morte318 karma

It is part of our protocol to get contact information, including a name. That dispatcher should have abandoned the last name and kept the first - inexcusable for the situation. There is what is called a "shunt protocol"; we use it for certain situations, like the caller being in danger. The dispatcher should have gone straight there rather than dwelling on her contact information.

Avogadro101276 karma

If I were to call in the middle of an emergency, besides remaining calm, what other things can I do/say/know to make your job easier and efficient?

bella_morte498 karma

Please don't tell me your life's story. You would be so surprised how many people start babbling on about irrelevant details. If I ask you a question, answer it with the minimum acceptable answer. Don't tell me how your aunt's ex-boyfriend's godchild had this happen to them once. The best thing you can do is listen and follow directions.

shadows101182 karma

What made you decide you wanted to be a 911 emergency dispatcher?

bella_morte354 karma

I was am EMT, and I loved it, but my body isn't able to lift, carry, or stand for long periods. Dispatching is a great alternative to little weaklings like me.

DorianDevil178 karma

What do you think causes dispatchers to flip out on the caller? Example.

bella_morte429 karma

Oh, a lot of things. Many of us work 8,10,12,14,16 hour shifts - those hours get /long/. People call the emergency line for so many innocuous reasons; it really does try your patience sometimes. Also, many dispatchers lose the understanding of how connected they are to actual emergencies. It's easy to forget after sitting at a console for hours on end.

Also remember that dispatchers are people. We stress about what's going on at home, or about that test result from the doctor, or if the kids are destroying the house. We are affected (and often abused) by callers. It gets to us.

What this dispatcher did was inexcusable. I am in no way defending his actions.

Teva833145 karma

What's your most common dispatch?

bella_morte180 karma

Unspecified law, definitely.

renane137 karma

Can you clarify? What does that mean?

zennz29200 karma

If I had to guess(former 911), I think OP means calls where people have questions about the law, custody exchanges, traffic complaints, civil matters, area check requests. The list goes on and on. Basically where a law isn't necessarily being broken, but the public is requesting police assistance.

bella_morte107 karma


bella_morte114 karma

It means anything from a parking complaint, to a reckless driver, or even a noise complaint. Anything a police officer needs to respond to that isn't priority.

StaticAsh142 karma

What were the circumstances of the most terrifying call you ever received? And to end on a positive note, what was the funniest?

bella_morte374 karma

Hearing a man beat a child to death with the handle of a spatula.

There was a woman who called me in a complete panic because she was locked in her car. Spoiler: she was fine.

signal101126 karma

I have been on the job as a 911 dispatcher for 4 months now. I take my call taking release test tomorrow and then move on to radio training in a few weeks. Do you have any advice for newbies in the field? I have noticed the stress starting to come home with me and sometimes I get anxious about going back to work. Any tips for how to handle the stress/anxiety?

bella_morte237 karma

EAT and SLEEP. Take responsibilities for your mistakes and LEARN from them. Make sure you have an outlet like a hobby or a trusted friend. Leave work at work. Make sure someone knows how you're feeling.

Best of luck!

swirsh125 karma

I have a severe allergy to aspirin (actually all NSAIDs) and some antibiotics and my doctor wants me to wear a medical necklace/bracelet. I hate wearing jewelry and thought about getting it tattooed on my wrist instead. Is this something an emt would notice? Do you notice medical bracelets? I have a card in my wallet too, but that seems easily overlooked.

bella_morte131 karma

I always check. I wouldn't bet on the wallet, it's not usually checked in the heat of the moment. A tattoo is a great idea.

CaptainFiddler103 karma

What is the most rewarding and best part of your job? :)

bella_morte215 karma

When you hang up after a stressful call, and everything turned out okay - that moment of being able to breathe again. Also, my coworkers; I adore them. :) They become your second family after all of the time you spend together.

CaptainFiddler53 karma

It must be a very rewarding job! Thanks for your kind answer and enjoy your flight ! I also have a lot of time to waste in an airport today! :)

bella_morte65 karma

Thank you! Enjoy your waiting!

heron2797 karma

So...any weird/creepy/paranormal experiences?

bella_morte204 karma

I had many as a mortician, none as a dispatcher.

partykitty22 karma

You've had some interesting careers. How did you become a mortician and why did you choose to change careers?

bella_morte69 karma

I went to mortuary science school. Working in this social climate is difficult for a young female. I did my best, but it didn't work out for me. I may try again if I move out of state. Plus, lifting all of that dead weight was hard.

partykitty17 karma

"Working in this social climate is difficult for a young female."

Could you expound on this?

bella_morte70 karma

I'm a 22 year old female. It's not that I'm female, it's that I'm young. Here, the funeral industry is predominately male and family owned. Not married to the owner's great-grandson? No job for you.

DimMagician84 karma

How would you describe your personality during the job? What do you think of cops that act like complete assholes during the job?

bella_morte181 karma

Oh, there are those few. But they are usually very kind toward us. After all, we decide what calls they go on. Wanna be a douche? Vehicle recovery for you.

I try to be as upbeat and pleasant as possible. You are sometimes the only person that has been their whole day. One calm voice can anchor a stressful situation.

jeleanor1177 karma

Hi! Thanks for answering our questions. I was wondering if you have ever had a caller who is so distressed that they can't give you the information you need? For example, if there has been a shooting and the person calling is screaming, or if someone has to whisper in a hostage situation? When I witnessed a car accident recently, I called 999 (I'm in the UK) and I struggled to keep my voice from shaking despite the fact I didn't know anyone involved. What do you do in situations where the caller is hard to hear? Thanks!

bella_morte111 karma

A study conducted (and my experience agrees) that only about 7%-10% of people are completely impossible to communicate with. Many are either eerily calm or upset, but able to speak. Shaking voices are normal for me to understand. I always take a moment and ask my caller to take a breath to sturdy themselves.

We also have the convenience of radio and phone playback, so if I missed something important, I can listen back to the recording rather than call again.

scubaguy19462 karma

What would you say are some major flaws in the system?

bella_morte111 karma

So many pocket dials...

Hmm. There are a lot of little flaws, but the 911 system has really come a long way, even in the last ten years. My only complaint would be staffing, but that is nobody's fault. I would also like better communication with our officers and a specified training program for the center.

8pappA51 karma

Why are some shifts so long how do you recover from one? And do you have any tips for me, my EMT education starts in february?

bella_morte107 karma

If there is a major incident going on (shooting, standoff, abduction, etc), then I stay to help. We are constantly short-handed. People don't stay because it's a hard job.

It is hard for me to decompress. I spend time with my family and my dog. Make sure I eat and sleep. It's easy to get burned out.

Pay attention and ask questions! The broader your understanding, the more competent of a caregiver you will be. Best of luck!

maroonmonday47 karma

Why are you stuck at the airport?

bella_morte98 karma

I am currently at MCO in Florida coming home from a decompressing vacation with my family. My job is one of the biggest reasons I went down there.

SackOfHellNo88 karma

That sounds hilarious. I'm at home, currently in bed with some milk and a handsome cuddle buddy.

I'm her sister. Not a random asshole.

bella_morte88 karma

She is my sister, but she is also an adorable asshole.

Lucky. I'm may lose my mind sitting here.

meow_gusta44 karma

Do you remember the people who you tried to help and wonder what happened to them? My mom died tragically two weeks ago and I've wondered how the 911 operator and EMTs who tried to save her are doing. (Thank you for doing the job you do.)

bella_morte63 karma

I wonder all of the time, but I can't at the same time. You can't carry baggage over from the day before - it may mean someone's life the next day. But to answer your question, I do cry sometimes, or excuse myself to the quiet room and pick up the pieces before returning for duty.

Dickdude900041 karma

Is it scary ?

bella_morte61 karma

It can be.

BobT2139 karma

How much discretion does the dispatcher have in determining the amount of resources to assign to a call? I live in a high fire hazard rural area; when there is a fire call here they tend to roll everybody with a shovel or hose.

bella_morte48 karma

It really depends on the dispatcher. Where I work, we dispatch for seven different cities. We send the minimum amount of resources possible, because changes are very high that they will be needed somewhere else.

It also depends on the call. If a child is abducted, more resources are called out (including off-duty officers) because it is time-sensitive.

tyronio25 karma

What classifies you as an AEMT vs. EMT-B in your state?

bella_morte79 karma

Basics can only give the minimum care, and only with permission. As an advanced, I can administer a wider variety of medications, give orders, start IVs, and make decisions according to the medical directive. Oh, and the basics have to get my soda when we get to the hospital. :P

gvilleg725 karma

Hi, thanks for taking time to do this AMA.

I'd like to know your opinion on this case where a police officer contacted a 911 dispatcher to disregard an incoming call. Long story short. A suspect in the back of a police car begins to show signs of unrest. The suspect's wife calls 911, but one or more of the officers think the suspect is "putting on somewhat of a show" to advert the situation he is in, so the police officer interjects by calling the dispatcher to disregard the call. Put yourself in the shoes of this dispatcher, how do you think you would have handled this situation?

bella_morte48 karma

Hmm. It poses an interesting dilemma. I have been trained to take every call as if it were a legitimate emergency, but after handling so many false or untrue emergency calls, it is an honest relief when we're told to disregard. One less thing to worry about.

But at the same time, the dispatcher isn't on scene. We only know what we're told, which is why we ask so many questions that may be obvious to the caller.

philisophicology23 karma

How does one become an advanced EMT as opposed to a basic EMT? For the record, this isn't sarcasm. I'm seriously considering becoming an EMT.

bella_morte32 karma

You take an advanced course and learn to do things like IVs and administer more types of medication, as well as oral insertions - like a King tube - and IOs into bones.

annoyingflyingthing20 karma

How is a regular shift for you?

bella_morte101 karma

"Regular"? What is this thing you speak of?

SugaryShrimp15 karma

What is a common reason people call 911 for that they really shouldn't? For example, I've heard of people getting lost or needing directions that would call.

bella_morte40 karma

"I'm locked out of my car" is a common one. Call the non-emergency line or a lock-smith, people.

"My neighbor is being super annoying" is another. Again, non-emergency line.

"My daughter won't listen to me/my child is out of control" etc. This one can get rather hairy. I have seen children assault and seriously injure their parents, and on the flip-side, children who refuse to do their homework.

Neerolyte8714 karma

How would you rate the emotional stress of this position? Does it get traumatic or do you know anyone who are not able to perform this job because of the traumatic event that they experienced?

bella_morte19 karma

It mostly affects my sleep, which affects my performance. I am getting better at shaking things off.

Dnar_Semaj11 karma

Your post history has several posts saying you are a funeral director. You're an EMT/ 911 dispatcher/ and a funeral director?

edit I realized this sounds like I'm calling you out, that wasn't intended. My question was more like "How/why did you switch from career to career, most people would not."

bella_morte13 karma

shrug The trending theme is that I enjoy giving aid during crisis. If I could still lift weight, I'd go back to EMT-ing.

skieryne6 karma

Your username wouldn't happen to be inspired from Anita Blake, would it?

Edit: can't spell things

bella_morte9 karma

I used to be a mortician.

booboobutt4 karma

Have you ever been called to an area that had a visible gang presence? Are you allowed to nope out?

bella_morte4 karma

I don't actually respond on calls, so thank goodness, no. But we do have notes in our system of gang-infested areas.

Kelter_Skelter1 karma

If I see something bad happening like a fight or people screaming for help and I call 911 legally how accountable am I for helping the person in need? I'm not trying to get stabbed trying to stop someone else from getting stabbed.

bella_morte3 karma

You are completely protected under the Good Samaritan Act. :)

With that said, every dispatcher must keep everyone's safety in mind. We will never give you an instruction that might endanger your life. In fact, I would probably ask you to separate but keep a visual. We don't need another patient or body bag.

Inidi61 karma

Whats the most stressful call youve taken as a dispatcher?

bella_morte2 karma

It's hard to narrow it down to one, and I've had that question asked a lot this thread. I'll just share another one - I listened to a Spanish-speaking couple trying to revive their recently-discovered deceased child. The language barrier made it impossible for us to communicate. It's so stressful trying to relay CPR instructions through a translator.