I recently sent someone an #IAM911 story. The person responded saying that the story was heart wrenching but they asked a question after that, “can you tell me what it’s like to be on the receiving end of these calls?” The following was my response.
Imagine your brother has been dealing with a bad break up. You go to the bar and after a few drinks he tells you he wants to kill himself. You tell him to stop talking like that. It’s not the end of the world. You head home and when you arrive your brother mentions suicide again. Fed up with what he is saying you go inside, grab a gun and take it outside. You hand it to your brother and say, “If you really want to then do it.” You think that he will realize how stupid of an idea this is and will change his mind but…he grabs the gun and shoots himself in the head killing himself in front of you.
Now imagine you’re 9-1-1, receiving this call and only hearing screams. It sounds like two females screaming over the phone. You ask, “What’s your address? Ma’am? Can you hear me?” The screaming continues and you type out, “Unknown situation.” You remember a technique from your training and bring your voice to a whisper tricking the caller into thinking no one is there.
The screaming stops, “Hello? Hello?”
“This is 9-1-1, what’s your address and what is going on?”
While she tells you the address you hear screaming in the background.
“I CAN’T BELIEVE HE DID IT! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!”
“Who is there with you?”
“My boyfriend and his brother who shot himself outside.”
“Who is the other female screaming?”
“That was my boyfriend…”
You realize the pain in the boyfriend and although you are strong and calm on the phone, in the back of your head all you can think about is your own brother.
“Ma’am, the police and ambulance are on the way.”
“The ambulance is coming ok?”
You hear your caller try to comfort her boyfriend but you hear him yell something that you will never forget.
“What the hell is an ambulance going to do? My brother’s face is all over the snow!”
The screaming continues and you hear your caller yell that her boyfriend now has the gun. He yells that he wants to kill himself. You tell her to get away from him and he eventually drops the gun and runs back outside. Police arrive and what felt like 15 minutes worth of chaos was more like 3 minutes. Police secure the boyfriend outside and rush in to check out the caller. She continues to cry and says thank you. You hang up the phone and sit there in shock.
“Are you ok,” your supervisor asks.
“Yeah I’m good,” you respond.
But you’re not good. You’re rocked and the screams echo in your head. For the next 3 hours they echo in your head and all you want to do is call your own brother just to hear his voice.
When you finally get the chance you tell him you love him. He asks what happened and after you tell him about the call he says, “I love you too.”
This is what it is like to be on the receiving end of these calls. This was a call that I took and this was years ago but I can still hear those screams of heartache. It never goes away. It is always there but you face it and manage it. I have said that taking a 9-1-1 call is like getting in a car, slamming the gas pedal and letting go of the steering wheel. I used to bury these calls and I caused more damage that way. Now I talk about them and it’s therapeutic for me. A big thing to understand is that 9-1-1 dispatchers are not drones. We don’t JUST answer the phone. We are there with you throughout the entire call and we may be calm and at the top of our game but in the back of our minds we are feeling your emotion. After the call, if there is time, we can reflect on it but the majority of the time? We pick up the next call and have no time to decompress.
I hope this answers your question…