Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hello, I'm Your Lifeline.

"My brother is on the floor by his bed, and I think he's dead!"

"There's someone outside, and they're trying to get in."

"What time is it?"

"Help me - I've been taken by a man in a truck!"

"My 8-year-old son will not go to school."

"We're at home, and my wife is about to give birth!"

"My chest is hurting, and I can barely breathe."

"My neighbor's shed is on fire, and it's about to catch the house!"

"There are aliens in my attic!"

There are certain lines of work that get under your skin, whether you want it to or not, and begin to run in your blood and change you, for better or worse.  And one of those lines of work is emergency services.  I used to work as a 911 dispatcher, and every. single. day. I am reminded of that job.  I am reminded of specific calls and incidents, of feelings that coursed through me as I answered the phone or the radio, of the people I worked with, of how I was changed by that job, and of how much I loved being a dispatcher.  Because I did love it.  With all my heart.  It took me forever to realize I loved it, and then once I  realized I loved it, the end of my time there was starting to come into sight.

Each of the lines written in the introduction were lines I heard when I answered 911.  I would answer the ringing line with "[town] 911; where is your emergency?" I waited with half-held breath for the reply.  Was this call going to be one that I dreaded, with an active shooter or someone needing CPR or a child that was kidnapped?  Sometimes I would internally breathe a sigh of relief as I began entering an already-occurred vehicle burglary call, and I would relax.  Other times, though, adrenaline would course through me as I began entering a high-priority call - an accident with injuries, a fire, a shooting, a burglary of a home in progress.

You only hear one end of the story.  You don't know everything that's going on.  And you try to picture in your head what is going on through snippets as the phone is handed from one person to another, or is placed down on a table as people scream and fight. The snippets come in even farther apart when a story unfolds over the radio.  "Uuuuuuugggghhh..." an officer moans over the radio, "I've been hit." Hit by what? A bullet? A person? A car? Other voices chime, "The vehicle is flipped over!"  "Fire..."  "We need JAWS now!"  You're so afraid that the officer is going to die, and you don't know exactly what happened.  You want to help, you want to rush to where you saw the officer's vehicle's GPS was on the map, but then you realize that you are helping by sending the fire trucks and ambulances and other officers.  The only other thing you can do is pray.  Only later do you learn the full story - a drunk driver hit the officer's vehicle and flipped it; the officer and passenger was trapped inside, and a fire started (but was quickly put out).  They all survived, but only by the grace of God.  Often, these stories end in death.

And sometimes the voices over the radio do tell of tragic endings.  Wildfires are spreading over the land, and your agency is working with other agencies, all teaming together to fight the fires.  There aren't enough men, aren't enough trucks.  Homes are being destroyed.  "There are supposed to be people in that trailer!" you hear someone from another agency cry out over the radio as he calls for more units to the location.  Twenty minutes later, there are confirmed dead in that trailer.  And a day later, you read in the news online about a dead mother and baby in a burned trailer, and you cry as you recall what you had heard on the radio.   You try not to imagine what happened inside that trailer, and you succeed, because you have built a wall around your mind that keeps that type of empathy out.

But then there are those times when you get to witness wonderful things, things like a husband helping his wife give birth to a healthy baby as he is coached over 911 on how to do it.  Things like officers stepping in to take another officer's report call when that officer had a rough day.  Things like firefighters volunteering to take the time to help an old lady with her fire alarms that just keep going off.  Things like a 911 caller calling back a day later to say "thank you" for helping him on the phone and "thank you" to the officer who took his report.  People's lives are saved, property is kept safe.  Children are found, and hysterical callers are calmed.  Suicides are prevented, violent men and women are locked up, and families are reconciled.

I had some really rough days. There was even a point where I started applying to other jobs.  But God gave me the strength to get through the hard times and the hard hours.  He pulled me through that point in time where I wanted to leave, and He showed me how much I had learned and how much satisfaction the job gave me.  And I realized I was in love with it.  I left because we had a baby and we moved, but I know one day I will go back to it.  I enjoyed helping the callers and the officers and firefighters more than I knew, and I enjoyed the occasional (ok, maybe a little more than occasional) rush of adrenaline that came with some of the calls.  I enjoyed the laughs shared at the crazy stories and people we encountered. And I enjoyed the camaraderie with my co-workers, both dispatchers and those out on the streets.  There is a strong bond between emergency services personnel that many of the public don't realize.  Maybe it's that way with other occupations, but it's different when your lives are in the hands of your co-workers and when you hold your co-workers' and others' lives in your own hands.  You have to trust, and think quickly, and get it right the first time.  Because whether you are an officer, a firefighter, or a dispatcher, you are a lifeline to someone, and you don't want to let them down.

Someday I will go back to it.  For now, though, I will enjoy the memories I have and the lessons I learned, and I will focus on what God wants me to do right now.  And I will always be kind to the 911 operator and to the officer pulling me over, because you never know what kind of day they had yesterday, are having today, or will have tomorrow.


  1. Kjelse, I can't agree more. As a firefighter, I can't tell you how much we appreciate dispatchers and everything they do. Thanks you!

    1. Thank you, Apple, for your kind words, especially since I'm sure you're often woken up in the middle of the night by a dispatcher needing to send you out! It always made my day when someone on the other side of the radio said thanks!


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