911 Operators Describe The Most Unnerving Calls They've Ever Received

911 Operators Describe The Most Unnerving Calls They've Ever Received
Image by Gianni Crestani from Pixabay

*The following article contains discussion of suicide/self-harm.

The person on the other end of a 911 call has a truly remarkable job.

For those who don't play that professional role, we hope to never encounter the 911 call interaction. But if we do find ourselves making that call, the moment is an anomaly in our lives.

The chaos, the panic, the racing heart, and the desperation are all emotions we, ideally, don't experience on a regular basis.

But for the operator on the other end, our call is one in a long line of calls they've received all day, and all the workdays before that one.

It's difficult to imagine being embedded in those uniquely urgent, emergency moments all the time.

Some Redditors who are on the other end of that call shared their experiences on the job.

WhimsicalxxButcher asked,

"911 dispatchers, what has been your most creepy/unnerving call?"

For a few, the most unnerving moments were the calm callers.

There was something just so eerie about how level-headed the faceless human being on the other end could be through such a desperate, tragic moment.

Almost Clinical 

"I had a friend who worked as a 911 dispatcher and he always said the worst call he ever had was a ~20 year old kid who committed suicide by mixing a bunch of chemicals together in his car to produce hydrogen sulfide gas."

"He said that the most unnerving part was hearing him calmly listing off the chemicals, the type of gas produced, and the effects of hydrogen sulfide on the body (namely the almost instant death it causes at high concentrations)."

"He ended the call by providing the address of the parking lot he was in and saying that nobody should approach the vehicle without hazmat equipment."

"Apparently after that there was a whooshing sound as he dumped the last chemical into the mix, and then the line went dead silent aside for a quiet fizzing noise."

"I know that call screwed him up because he almost never talks about stuff that happens to him on the job. He quit a few months later to go into construction management, and frankly I can't blame him."

-- iunoyou

Planned Out 

"A woman called me, saying she was going to kill herself. She was gassing herself. Gave me her name & address then said she was just going to lie down and 'go to sleep.' And stopped responding to me."

"I kept the line open, trying to get her to speak to me, and eventually heard officers forcing their way in to find her body. I guess she just wanted someone to find her body."

-- mozgw4

Before It Set In 

"When I got a call from a 6 year old who got home from school and laid down to take a nap with his dad. His dad never woke up."

"The kid was so calm when calling it broke my heart."

"I ended up leaving dispatch shortly after. I was good at compartmentalizing the job for the year I was doing it, but it would've broken me in the long run."

-- tasha7712

A Horrifying Crescendo

"Suicide or homicide calls always get my hair standing on end. I've taken a few of both. It's always eerie how callers start off relatively calm then you notice them get more and more emotional and hysterical as the weight of what they've just witnessed sets in."

"I have taken calls from parents screaming at their dead child and sobbing asking why they did it. It's a creepy feeling knowing that they're standing there screaming at a dead body that's in God knows what kind of condition."

-- SmokeEater509

Other 911 operators were unfortunate enough to receive a call from the very last person they wanted to hear from: a loved one.

These dispatchers' unique position gave them the unexpected access to a family member or friend at their most dire moments.

No More of That 

"My family member is a long time first responder, and 'retired' into doing dispatch. He heard the address (someone else was taking the call) and realized it was his daughter's house."

"He rushed over there just in time to see them wheeling her body out. Overdose."

"Five months later, he was called to his ex-wife's place because his grandson (son of the daughter who recently passed) had his door locked, lights on, but wasn't responding to his grandma."

"He broke the door down and found him deceased in bed. Overdose."

"He's very stoic after years of all sorts of traumatic situations but my heart hurts whenever I think of what all of this must have felt like. Like sand through your fingers."

-- bitchyhouseplant

Knowing the Address

"Not me, but my grandma. I was sitting in the dispatch office, (very small one only 2 dispatchers including my grandma) but she put out a dispatch that there was a gun shot from my best friends address."

"My heart sank to my stomach and broke later that day. He committed suicide."

-- OntaiSenpuu

When it Happened 

"My uncle passing away. Worked as a small town dispatcher for a year or so. Had a bunch of messed up stuff happen on shift, but this call came in in the still hours of the night. Small town, so not many calls after midnight."

"I answered and recognized the name and address on caller id. Aunt was in a frenzy so didn't recognize my voice. I remained calm and got ems and fire rolling to them, but by my aunt's own words he was already blue."

"I went thru debriefing and mandated therapy for a couple other things that happened, but never really talked to anyone about this. I just try not to think about it."

"That was the call I figured out I needed to find a different job."

-- dangitjon

Finally, some simply had a front row seat to sudden tragedy.

These operators were flies on the wall when disaster struck. They never asked to witness what they witnessed, but sometimes that came with the territory.

A Holiday Tragedy 

"My mom is a 911 dispatcher. Early on she said one Christmas Eve while working she got a call from an elderly lady who's husband had just collapsed(and died) from a heart attack and in the background Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas music was playing on blast."

"The lady was screaming and crying and begging for her husband to wake up but my mom could hear his gurgling in his last breathes. She doesn't listen to or watch Alvin and the chipmunks since."

-- Blueflowerbluehair

What is it About Christmas?

"Christmas night. 911 call with crying child on the other end. A neighbor had run her car over her mom during a domestic."

"The mom crawled to the porch bleeding and the child saw the car coming back. I had her hide quietly in a closet with the cordless phone."

"The 10 year old child was crying and screamed that she hated Christmas. She was afraid of the police when they got there."

"I kept her on the phone until she felt safe enough to give the phone to an officer. I almost fainted after that call was over. Had nightmares for a while."

-- 2FunBoofer

Close to Home 

"Not a dispatcher but I handle radio communications for the Coast Guard. One night I was on the radio and got a call from an 11 year old kid whose boat had started to sink. He was out with his dad and 6 year old brother."

"They had been hit by another boat and his father got knocked unconscious. I remember the entire conversation up until the radio had gone underwater."

"They ended up finding his dad floating on his back alive but the two boys didn't make it. That one really fu**ed with me because my two littlest brothers were around the same age as the youngest."

-- HIRSH2243

Excruciating, and Imagined

"Probably the guy that called screaming that his friend abandoned him to die and that he could feel it coming because he had parasites eating him from the inside."

"He was coded a 10-96 (a caller with some mental instability) and I had to try and calm him down while the deputies approached him."

"I really hope he received the help that he needed and is doing better now."

-- AeonianAlpaca

A Dismal Day

"Another one that stays with me was the man who called in. It was the anniversary of his adult son having hanged himself. He'd now come home to find his wife had done the same. That date is always going to be a black day for him."

-- mozgw4

Looking Out for Number One

"I asked a friend this, she worked in it 20+ years and shes an absolute sweet little lady, she told me this one time a neighbor called them to say the apartment building was on fire and there were kids still inside sleeping in the neighboring apartment, but they didnt wanna bother checking the door or waking them up not to upset the parents (who were at work) all 6 kids and 2 dogs died that day."

"She expressed how people are REALLY unwilling to help someone in need when calling sometimes and it breaks her soul every time."

-- GarlicAndCheese

As It Happened

"I recently had an open line 911 call, where the person that called was the victim of a home invasion. He was smart enough to call 911 and hide the phone so we could hear everything that was going on. I heard him begging for someone to just take the money and leave, please don't kill me I'm an old man..."

"And I heard another male voice in the background swearing telling him he was going to shoot him in the face. It was the longest phone call of my life, I thought for sure I was going to hear this poor guy get murdered on the line. I was afraid to say anything because I didn't want the suspect to know or hear that the victim had called."

"Thankfully our officers got there fairly quickly, surrounded the building and caught the guy trying to go out a back window. He got arrested and the old man survived with only minor injuries from being punched several times. Apparently the suspect was super high and was a friend of a caretaker of the elderly person. The caretaker had mentioned the old man had money hidden in the house."

-- Punkerduckie

Unbelievable Intensity

"I heard this story from my friends mom where she answered a call from a man who had stepped on a landmine. his mom told him to stay still and asked where the man was. The man was apparently near the entrance of a hiking trail and his location was easy to track, and during the whole time of the police arriving there, his mom kept talking but stuttering, as one wrong move would end up blowing the man apart."

"The police arrived with a bomb squad, and his mom heard an explosion. She had tears going down her face but then she heard the man talking from a distance. To this day she is unsure how the man escaped but the mine blew up. It's impossible to disarm a mine if someone is standing on it and the mine was about 50 years old at the time."

-- duckyfy

A Formative Tragedy

"When I was 9 my mom died. My brother (10.5) and I were home alone with her. Our dad had died 3 years earlier. She had a massive heart attack. My brother called 911 and they walked us through getting her off the bed and onto the floor so that my brother could attempt CPR."

"When he was ready, he gave me the phone (on speaker), and told me to turn around and face the wall so I didn't have to watch. I vividly remember sobbing to the dispatcher: PLEASE YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, THIS IS MY LAST PARENT! YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!"

"The dispatcher attended my mother's funeral and left the field right after."

"My brother is a trauma surgeon."

"I'm in nursing school."

"Very cataclysmic situation for all involved."

-- iGoBuMpInThEdArKbOoO

Again, we hope you never have to use the 911 call in your life. Nobody wants to be involved in a sudden emergency or a tragic incident.

But hopefully, if you do, an operator like one of these thoughtful, sensitive Redditors is on the other end.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/

Want to "know" more?

Sign up for the Knowable newsletter here.

Never miss another big, odd, funny, or heartbreaking moment again.

Woman holding up an Oxford English Dictionary
Photo by Houcine Ncib on Unsplash

There is so much to learn in the world, it's impossible for one person to know absolutely everything there is to know.

But there are certain things, like common phrases and idioms, that everyone seems to use that might be a little embarrassing to not understand until later in life.

Keep reading...Show less
Newborn baby crying
Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

While starting a family and having children is a goal that many people have, some do not realize that it's not easy, fun, and loving one-hundred percent of the time. Rather, it's expensive, exhausting, and hard, though it might be worth it in the end.

With this in mind, people shared what they felt were the hardest hurdles of their parenting.

Keep reading...Show less
A couple making out in the kitchen
We-Vibe Toys/Unsplash

Positive emotions are high among people in the blossoming phase of relationships.

Everything seems more romanticized for people in love due to the amorous joy in their hearts–which also influences their desire to frequently get it on under the sheets–or any other daring location in the heat of the moment.

But for those who've declared "'til death do us part," devoted couples may find that they are not always on the same wavelength sexually compared to when they first met.

Keep reading...Show less
Photo by John Thomas on Unsplash

There are a number of things people partake in spite of the known possible ramifications they have on their health and safety.

Up to and including smoking, bungee-jumping, recreational drug use, or simply bike riding without a helmet.

Indeed, even though they know that doing any or all of these things could possibly lead to their death, they do it anyway.

Sadly, even though many people go out of their way to avoid doing these things for that very reason, that still doesn't mean they keep themselves completely out of danger.

Sadly, there are a surprisingly large number of things that lead to an even more surprising number of deaths each year.

Frighteningly, these are things that the majority of the world's population does on an almost daily basis.

Keep reading...Show less