By Colleen Conrad
I’ll take “Crazy Calls to 9-1-1” for $200, Alex.
We all get them. Minding our own business, taking our 15th burglary or our 10th domestic violence call when the next one comes through. It’s one of those head-scratching calls that you honestly say to yourself, “And I thought I’d heard everything.” This is the kind of call that stays with you for a very long time, and when you think about it, you start to scratch your head all over again. If you tell your loved ones or friends outside of public safety, they wouldn’t believe you.
Most of the time, you really can’t discuss these calls because they can be offensive to those who don’t understand. However, because of the defense mechanisms people in the business build, we tend to burst out laughing and say, from time to time, “You remember when I got that call … ?” The people that haven’t heard the story look stunned and their response usually is, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” and they start to laugh, too. It’s how we deal with stuff in our line of work. We’re not poking fun at any one person, or any group; it’s just what we do. If we didn’t laugh, we’d all be locked up in the old “rubber room” in a straitjacket.
These calls find their way to the Internet and television. Heck, Jay Leno (you remember, the former host of The Tonight Show) had a regular gig (called Dealing with the Public) in which he played actual 9-1-1 calls for his audience. People could hear exactly what we deal with every day. It’s that intriguing. However, calls that he played were mild compared to some of the calls we have received. I dare say that most people would be aghast at the reality.
Dispatchers get abused on a daily basis. People are not in the best mood when they get to us. These people have been victimized, and that tends to make anybody a bit cranky. But is that a reason for some people to lash out and yell at you? Not really, because I can guarantee to about 99.999 percent of the time that the dispatcher is not the person that victimized the caller. It’s that dispatch-born cynic in me that won’t give that other .001 of a percent.
I wish I received a nickel for every time I heard, “Stop asking me these stupid questions and send me the cops” or “You don’t need that information; send an ambulance to help us.” No matter now nicely I explain how this information is going to help the first responders, I am always going to have that person who thinks he or she knows better what to do in an emergency than I do. I’ve been at this for over 20 years.
So after taking the abuse, getting one of those freaky calls makes my day almost as exciting as Christmas. There is always the caller reporting an indecent exposure to make me giggle, especially when I ask what the naked man was wearing. There are the neighbors calling because they are mad as can be at their neighbors letting their dogs poop on their lawns. Then there’s the continuous caller or the frequent fliers that keep calling, and their stories keep getting further and further into Bizarro-land. I know it’s not always appropriate to find those funny, but it’s our defense mechanism. It’s the way we deal.
Where I work, we have training tapes. We use some of these calls to show the new employees the kinds of calls they might have to deal with someday. They aren’t pretty.
We have one recording that is incredibly inappropriate. A disturbing sense of humor on the caller’s part can’t even explain why. She is making a domestic violence call, and it takes a moment to realize the woman has a different sort of problem. The caller says she must self-gratify herself and the next thing heard—use your imagination here—gives you the sudden feeling that you’re intruding. The first time I heard it, I wasn’t sure that I was hearing what I was actually hearing. It was. Yep, you get it now.
We work in a crazy world. Some of the calls we receive are so crazy, you’d think we were making this up. We aren’t. Most of the “normal” people outside this profession would never understand that call. Leno couldn’t play it for his audience. It would be censored. But it’s one we still giggle about. Because that’s how we deal.