Have you ever watched TV shows like “Rescue 9-1-1”, and wondered about the scenes of the dispatchers working through an emergency? The ones where the show cuts back and forth from the caller’s perspective to the dispatcher, where the 9-1-1 operator works through the situation to get help going? Well, it’s almost never like that. Let me tell you about last night, working at 9-1-1.
It’s Friday night. It’s also summer in the valley, with daytime highs near or over 100 degrees F. And it’s a full Moon. Surveys, studies, logic and the scientific method assure us that there is no “full Moon effect”, but you’d be hard pressed to find any 9-1-1 dispatchers who don’t believe it’s real. Personally, I don’t, but sometimes I’m hard pressed to remember that. Last night was one of those nights. Let’s dive in.
9 1/2 hours of a ten hour shift on channel two, on a Friday night (they do let us out for 30 minutes for lunch). A full Moon. In August. For most of the night, 25 units on my channel. All it takes is one to decide to do a traffic stop, then suddenly ALL of them want to do traffic stops! It’s especially fun when the gang suppression or car theft teams are out and about.
Fights. Parties. Loud music. More fights.
Oddly, no barking dog calls tonight.
More loud music. Always loud music.
Reckless drivers. Drunk drivers. A couple of traffic accidents. Several ambulance runs, one a 15 day old difficulty breathing, one 84 year old difficulty breathing.
Shots heard. They’re strange, shots heard calls: sometimes we only get one call from a crowded neighborhood, other times we get dozens. Cops dispatched.
Child exchanges, dispatch a cop to “keep the peace”. Wonder at people that need the cops to exchange kids. Child exchanges that didn’t happen, and the other parent is pissed. Send a cop for that. Breakups with kids can get nasty. Midnight checks because the non-custodial parent is “worried” about the children. 99% of the time they’re fine, and were woke up by the police at the door. Way to go, other parent.
Welfare check because somebody on Facebook was fishing for attention and “seemed” suicidal. He’s fine. She didn’t get his “joke”.
More traffic stops. Everybody and their grandma is on the road tonight, and they’re all forgetting the vehicle code.
Abandoned cars. People pulled over on the side of the road and being “suspicious”…. as they talked on their cell phones for 20 minutes. Good for them, no driving while on the phone.
Drunks staggering down the shoulder of the road. Gotta find a cop to check it out, but they’re all busy on other stuff. Like loud music.
Yeah, more loud music calls.
Crappy radios…”10-9?” “it’s the heat” “it’s the cold” “it’s the fog” “it’s the rain” <– reasons for crappy radio transmissions.
Units chomping at the bits to join the CHP’s pursuit before it runs out of the county. It ran out of the county.
Bar brawl, send a bunch of cops, and an ambulance needed. Then, a second ambulance needed. Laceration and “asthma” (panic) attack.
Teenager calling in and harassing the dispatchers. Vulgar. Threatening. Dozens of times. Not bright, we know who he is.
Cookies in dispatch. Didn’t last long. Somebody bring us donuts, too, please.
Air unit doing patrol checks. Three at a time. Put him on one, take him off. Update city unit that keyed up immediately after. Put air unit on second patrol check, take him off. Respond to deputy doing a traffic stop. Put air unit on last check, take him off. Other units trying to talk all at once. It’s one at a time, folks, sorry.
Answer the 9-1-1 line, because everybody else in the room is already on a phone, and there are 4 lines ringing. Lucky, just a quick transfer to CHP, off the phone quick.
More loud music. “How come we never do anything about it?? I’ve called a bunch of times!” “No, I don’t want contact, just make them stop!”
Direct the young lady who has decided at 6:30 pm on a Friday that she’d like information on becoming a police officer to call back Monday during business hours to talk to somebody about it. Phones are ringing off the hook while she’s asking questions. Or they would be if they had hooks, anymore. Now, the computer screen is blinking at me, and the speakers are “ringing” that annoying 9-1-1 tone.
Another party! According to the caller, it’s all about that bass. “I have to get up at 4am!”
Racing vehicles… give it to CHP. Stop sign down, call sign maintenance. Malfunctioning traffic light. That’s on a state highway, call CHP for Caltrans.
Send a deputy to assist CHP on another call, because the car they stopped has a fight between a man and woman in progress. CHP doesn’t do domestics. (but to be fair, we don’t do traffic accidents)
Burglar alarms sounding, owners will only respond if it’s an actual burglary. Oh, look, the motion sensor was tripped by that hanging sign under the air conditioning vent.
Phone rings, everybody is on another line, so grab it – “I just got home, and I was robbed!” “Someone robbed you?” “Yes, I’ve been robbed!” “What did he look like?” “I don’t know, I wasn’t here!” (oh, the caller was burgled, not robbed. They’re different things in my world). Add it to the list of calls waiting.
More loud music.
The tweeker is reporting a break-in, not sure what’s missing, but they’re sure something was taken.
It’s Friday night, the teenager has been missing since Wednesday morning, but the parents have decided they better go ahead and report it now.
Betty calls in and graces us with what we’ve come to call “Bettyisms”… tonight’s is mild, more akin to a blessing than anything else. Some from the past: “Our family cow, named Betsy, my sister tried to claim her for herself, so my Mother made my Daddy sell it“. Another: “They didn’t heed to the doctors warning or to Betty’s advice, so they are either dead or doing lousy“. We say, “OK, thanks, Betty, bye!” She laughs, and hangs up happy.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
And that’s just what I can tell you about.
I’ve been doing this now for 21 years, 2 months, and about 3 weeks. I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do to earn a paycheck. I really do love my job. Even after 21 years of the same thing over and over, it’s never the same thing. It’s an amazing career, and I work with amazing people. Between the dispatchers and the deputies and officers, the brass that tries to keep what has to sometimes seem like herding cats going in the right direction, and the public who expects top-flight service no matter what, this job is like no other.
My Friday night was ten hours of roller coaster riding at it’s best, and at the end of the shift, everybody went home in one piece. Well, a few went to jail, but that’s a different story.
Disclaimer: Not an official anything from any agency. Some details changed to protect privacy. Just an overview of one dispatcher’s night at work. Multiply that by thousands across the country, and tens of thousands around the world, in dispatch centers everywhere. “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”