Confessions of a 911 Operator

I'm going on my one-year anniversary of being a 911 operator -- in the city that never sleeps. Which is why it is great for me to work the graveyard shift, so that way I can still be up in the morning to send my kids off to school.

Being a part of the local law enforcement team and helping others in need has always been a passion of mine, so when I was hired as a 911 dispatcher, I was very happy.

On the first day of my one-week training academy, I remember walking into a small office area with other trainees and thinking to myself about what I was going to be doing. Once I met my instructor and fellow peers I began to feel a bit more comfortable -- but that comfort lasted only until the instructor announced that the class would be practicing 911 calls and scenarios. Being first to go that day was an experience I will never forget.

My first scenario was a woman who called 911 because her son had a seizure and was reported to be shaking on the ground uncontrollably. Well, my job was to keep her calm at that moment and to get as much information about the incident as possible. However, the only thing I could seem to think about at the time was, "oh my god!" Everything just felt so real, and not only did I not know what to say during the scenario, but I felt myself shaking uncontrollably too. Eventually, through the training, I learned how to cope with calls like that one, and many others.

A real-life life-or-death call
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According to the BLS, employment for 911 operators is expected to grow faster than average (18 percent) through 2018 and job opportunities are expected to be favorable.

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$33,670: Median annual wages for emergency dispatchers according to the May 2008 BLS report.

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Life on the job after the training academy was no different from my first day at the academy. One of the scariest moments of my life was from a 911 call I received. I remember stating "911 emergency, what is your emergency?" and the first thing I heard was a disturbingly loud shriek. It came from a 15-year-old girl. She sounded as if she were completely out of breath, like she was in the midst of running a marathon, and she continually shouted the words, "Please! Please! Stop!"

I tried many times to calm her down and to get her to speak clearly, but still all I heard were those dreadful words -- "Please! Please! Stop!" -- repeated over and over. After what seemed to be an eternity, but was only about two minutes in reality, the girl stopped panting and yelled out "Dad! Help my dad! Please!" I remember asking where she was, and she said she didn't know. At this point, I began to fear for the young girl and her father, worrying about the fact that their lives might be in my hands.

While I was trying to talk to her about what was going on, she stated that her father was being brutally attacked by four men who appeared to be gang affiliated, and that she had run behind a dumpster in a nearby alleyway to hide. I asked the girl if she could see anything close by that might give me details about her location, and she said she saw a broken billboard advertising houses. This was great news for me, as this was a familiar landmark to me. After getting this information, I was able to dispatch a police unit to the area.

Upping the stakes

Once the police arrived they broke up the physical altercation between the men and arrested three of them. I had remained on the phone with the young girl, who suddenly began screaming fiercely! One of the men was holding this poor girl hostage with a small pocket knife, and I could hear the man screaming, "I'm going to cut her! I'm going to kill her and then kill myself!"

Knowing there was nothing I could do, I sat there listening, feeling completely helpless, but knowing that the police would somehow handle it. Every minute that passed seemed like hours and I felt like I was being crucified. The girl began to scream in a very frightening manner, and seconds later I heard gun shots -- which turned out to have fatally injured the hostage taker. But the girl was OK!

I have to endure this feeling of helplessness every day I swipe my badge in for work, and my goal for each day at work is to go home with the feeling that I helped save a life. As I do my job as a 911 dispatcher, I am always thinking of the difference I make in my city -- and most importantly, about the good side of my career, those moments where I am the key link to helping save someone's life.

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