Disturbing Call in the Life of a 911 Operator

911 operators are professionally trained to receive emergency communications and to dispatch services. The job entails the ability to work under stressful situations by staying composed.

But in the life of a 911 operator, disturbing call is inescapable.

911 operator at work
In the life of a 911 operator, disturbing call is inescapable (todayspulse.com)

Worst Thing I Ever Heard

I have had people ask me many times “what is the worst thing you have ever heard as a dispatcher?” I usually pause for a moment, and then give them some quick story that is just horrifying enough that they won’t be asking me that question anymore, but not so horrifying that I don’t have to think about it much myself. That may be unkind of me, but I haven’t found any graceful way of answering that question.

The truth is the worst thing I ever heard when I was a dispatcher was silence. Silence after hearing a gun shot over the telephone, and you strain to hear if the caller is still breathing. Silence when you ask an Officer for his status 3 times and he doesn’t answer. Silence while you are on the phone with a child, who is hiding in the closet while her drunk dad is beating her mom, and suddenly all the screaming and banging in the background stops.

Silence when everyone in the room and on the road stops their transmissions after hearing something suspicious over the radio. Silence after you have been talking to a suicidal caller for the past 20 minutes trying to get them to tell you where they are and you realize that all those pain killers must have kicked in. Silence after an officers badge number gets signed off the air for the last time, and you know he won’t be going home to his family.

The worst silence is after something so bad just happened, that you can’t find words or tears to express the devastating emotions you are experiencing. No one can, the silence won’t break, and time seems to have stopped. – 3grnowl

A child called asking for help as parents fight in the background
A child called asking for help as parents fight in the background (paper4pc.com).

1979 NYC

Got a call from a crying child – a little boy – saying his mom and dad were fighting and his dad said he was going to throw the mom out of the window.

I could hear a terrible fight going on in the background – woman screaming, things breaking, man yelling, etc. The poor kid didn’t know his address. We didn’t have the technology for call ID and would have to use reverse telephone books. A trace would take forever.

Anyway while I’m trying to get the address I hear a horrific scream and glass breaking. A few seconds later the other operators in the room are getting calls about a woman lying in the courtyard who came out of a window. Very sad.

Worst of all is that I am sure someone else in this apartment building must have heard this fight but no one called for help until it was too late. Poor kid. Working 911 in NYC during the 70s/80s was a nightmare. The City had a very high crime rate and shit technology. – Mizcreant908


Halloween Call

My mom was a 911 dispatcher in the early 90’s (I was 5 years old-ish) in Washington State. When I got older, I remember asking her about some of the calls that she could still recall. One in particular was pretty bad.

She was working one year on Halloween night and around 10 or 11pm she had a call come in that a couple guys were driving around town with a dummy or something dragging behind their truck. The dummy was falling apart and pieces of clothing/plastic were being torn off and scattered around the city.

Being Halloween, it seemed like a prank but she had a patrol car try to find and stop the truck. As time goes by more and more people started to call in about it. Eventually the patrol car caught up with the truck and it turns out that it was a person.

The guys had gone to a store earlier and when they left, they had backed their truck into an elderly man whose clothes got caught in the rear bumper or whatnot. The two guys never even knew that they were dragging around another human being all across town, for miles.

The elderly man had passed away and those pieces of clothing scattered around town, was his clothing, flesh, and body parts. Still gives me chills. – Turkeyshoes


Domestic Violence

A Spanish-speaking woman called to report her husband had been causing problems in the home. He wasn’t there, only her and the children, and the conversation proceeded calmly with the help of an interpreter.

I had obtained her address (thankfully) and was asking a few other preliminary questions when suddenly I could hear a male voice shouting and several people screaming. I heard the phone drop. I instructed my co-worker who was working on the main police channel to send the officers code 3 (lights and sirens) but the yelling and screaming seemed to go on and on in my ear.

Suddenly a man picked up the phone and began speaking in Spanish. Through the interpreter he explained that everything was fine and there was no need to send the police. I began to question him about who he was and what had happened, hoping to keep the phone line open.

Just then I heard the sounds of the officers bursting in ordering him down on the ground. Turns out he had broken in and repeatedly stabbed his wife with a knife in front of the children. Thankfully she survived. – Janice Lampkin

911 dialed on a mobile phone
The operator heard the phone drop (wzep1460.com).

Christmas Eve

I answered 911 for a hysterical lady who was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe. I asked her what was going on and she told me these exact words “my boyfriend and I…we were watching a movie.. I fell asleep. I woke up and he wasn’t here.”

I thought this was a little odd so I said, “okay ma’am, do you know where he may have went?” she wasn’t done. She said, “I found him.. in our closet, he hung himself.. with our bed sheets.” I walked her through cutting him down and starting CPR. when, in the middle of it he starts making this long raspy exhale that sounds exactly like something from a horror movie, it’s the rest of his air leaving his lungs.

She starts getting hysterical again begging him, “oh my god, he’s breathing, please breathe baby, please breathe…” But I knew that’s not what he was doing.

Police/fire/ambulance got there and of course the guy was way dead. I felt so bad for that woman. That’s really the only call that has ever stuck with me. – JeCsgirl

Related Reading:

CALL 911!: True Stories

Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat

911, Who Will Answer Your Call?

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