Emergency services dispatchers are essential in getting people the help they need in emergencies. Unfortunately, people needing help aren't always great at telling the operator where they are or what they need.
Reddit user u/JD_Kreeper asked:
Pretty much any time you get a young child calling you know you aren't going to get any information you didn't explicitly ask for. Kids generally understand when help is needed but they don't have the mindset to describe what or why it's needed so you're really just taking various shots in the dark until something sticks that you can piece together. Also, if a kid is calling it's typically a bad situation where for whatever reason there are either no adults around or too incapacitated to call themselves. It is almost always followed up by a call to social services afterwards.
My step dad's fire station once got a call asking whether you should throw salt or sugar on a fire to put it out--I'm not sure if the call was transferred or they'd called the station directly. He asked why and they responded that her and her husband disagreed on it. He asked if they had a fire, and they said well, yes, but they were just wondering which to use. He asked where, and they said "oh, we're just behind the station to the East." He looked over and could see flames rolling out of their kitchen window.
Early in my career I got the "Suspicious male out walking" call. It makes me feel dirty every time I have to enter one of them.
Me: What's suspicious about him?
Caller: Well, he's carrying a flashlight!
Me: ... (looks at clock. It's 2 am) Well ma'am, it IS dark outside.
Caller: Yeah but he's a BLACK man in a hoodie.
Me: Oh (thinking, OHHHhhhhHHHhKAY Karen well that just makes ALL the difference doesn't it?) I'll send someone to do an area check.
Caller: And I know ALL my neighbors and he doesn't belong.
Me: (Sure you do Karen. Buh bye now. ) Yes ma'am. Officers will check the area.
(It was totally her neighbor.)
Just took this one:
"There's a guy here acting weird"
"What do you mean, what's he doing?"
"I don't know, he's just weird.. I don't know the definition of weird"
"Well, what's weird mean to you? It's not illegal to be weird"
"He's looking over his shoulder... He shouldn't be here"
(He's on public property - anyone can be there)
It turned out the guy may have been a crack head but wasn't using or bothering anyone. The caller just didn't want him around.
Not a 911 dispatcher but a taxi dispatcher in an area with a huge drug and alcohol problem.
One night I started getting calls from 'helpful citizens' who were calling a cab for a lady who was wandering around. She had just been beaten to a bloody pulp by her partner and dumped in a rural area. It was about 10pm and she was walking up to strangers houses (think long driveways and lots of forests) pounding on their door until they answered and then asking them to call a cab for her.
Not one of these people thought of calling 911 to get her an ambulance or the police, and they refused to give me their address for a pick up (a large amount of our customers are very secretive of their info, often refusing to give me their name, phone #, address or destination. Vital info when ordering a cab) just telling me the road she was walking around on. I kept telling the helpful homeowners that I couldnt send a cab unless I had an address to pick her up at and all those people just sent this poor lady off into the night looking for more help.
Ever 15-20 min, for about 2 hours, I would get a smiliar call from a diffrent homeowner, telling me how bloody and badly beaten she was, then basically refusing to give me any info. I called the police to tell them what was going on but without a name or address, they couldnt really do much.
I never heard how it turned out. It was a very bad night.
Had a woman on the line who was locked in a bedroom after getting into a physical fight with her boyfriend but had no idea where she was and she was incredibly difficult to understand. I asked her if she was in a home or apartment - she said apartment. I told her to look out the window and tell me what she saw. She said "a red car and a blue car." Not much help there. So, I asked her how many stories the apartment complex had and she said 3. This was obviously not a lot to go on so I finally asked what the last thing she remembers seeing before they pulled into the apartment complex and she said a Target. I knew there was a Target just outside our jurisdiction and a couple of 3 story apartments near there but one in particular that we got called out to regularly, so I dispatched police.
Meanwhile the boyfriend was beating down the door, literally, and was about to get in so I knew it was urgent that we find her immediately. I hoped with all my heart that I sent police to the right place. When my officers pulled on scene, they reported seeing a red and a blue car so I knew we were close but we still didn't know which apartment. The boyfriend was about to burst in the room so she hid under the bed and when he finally broke down the door I told her to run toward the front door and to scream as loud as she could (which we're not really supposed to do because if they get hurt after you give them an order, it can leave the PD liable) but she was frozen and needed help and we needed to find her or at least, maybe someone would hear her scream and call us with an address. He came into the room, she slid out from under the bed and ran to the front door screaming, burst outside and my officers were right there. Turned out the reason she was so difficult to understand was because the bastard had knocked out her teeth.
911 dispatcher in VA here. As far as vague goes probably when a passerby called about a man sitting on a curb looking lonely. No description of the male & no legit location.
Caller: I'm sitting at an intersection here in town and I saw this guy...
Me: Okay sir, did the man appear to be in distress or suspicious in any way? Caller: no I don't think so, but he seemed really lonely.
Me: uhhh... do you want me to send a unit to check his welfare?
Caller: Yes please. I mean it may be nothing or he may be thinking about running into traffic & I think someone should talk to him.
Me: Do you remember where you saw him?
Caller: No, one a curb near my family member's house.
Me: hmmm okay, what's that address?
Caller: gives address
Me: any idea where in relation to the house?
Caller: no, all the streets here look the same. I'm from out of town.
Me: Do you have a description of the male? Is he W/B/H? What he is wearing?
Caller: no, I didn't look at him really, I just drove by & looked lonely...
Me: bashes head against console
Not 911 but Search and Rescue Radio in Alaska. Late one evening in a winter blizzard, i got the call "Coast Guard we are going over" thats it. I never heard from the ship again. I did however find some other helpful souls and background info. After being in the water almost 6 hours in 34f degree water we picked them up. All four lived. One of my most intense nights ever.
ALSKA (1999) The 63 foot steel long line cod fishing vessel Alska capsized in severe weather and sank March 12, 1999 in Hallo Bay on the Alaska Peninsula west of Kodiak Island. A U S Coast Guard Helicopter was able to rescue three of the crewmembers. A fourth was taken aboard the fishing vessel T-Mike. There was no loss of life.
Mapping and Location: South Central Alaska 58 27 N 153 57 W Chart 16580
Additional Information: ON 553667
Sources: 1. Unofficial Shipwreck List (Kodiak), 2. BOEM Alaska Shipwreck List (2011)
It's hard to say, we get vague calls allllll the time and people hardly answer when you call back. Mostly "Send the police"....and that's it. Luckily sometimes people will say "They shot him!" or something along those lines thennn hang up.
No longer a dispatcher, but was for 15 years. I answered a 911 call from a cell phone that only indicated a sector/ direction the call was coming from and the tower that the call was bouncing off of...basically no valid location information. Initially it sounded like a butt dial situation, but I stayed on the line a little longer trying to refresh the call for better location information. As I was listening it sounds like a loud TV and some muffled noises in the background, so I stayed on longer then I would have. I was finally able to narrow the location down to about 3 football fields and searched inhouse records for the phone number...
at this point there was still no communication except in the background.. then I heard what was 1 single clear call for help. I couldn't tell if it was the TV or a person though. I already entered a vague call to check the area and kept updating officers with further info. Eventually we narrowed it down to 1 road that had 1 house surrounded by businesses so officers went to the house. Found that there was a teenage boy and a little brother or sister that were held tied up by parents. I tried to search for the news report but can't recall enough details. Thankfully I didn't give up one the call too soon, and the children where rescued.