Life as a 911 operator is a stressful one. You receive the most desperate phone calls you could ever imagine and there is little more you can do once the call has been dispatched. Instead, you are left to hear tortured cries and agony from the callers on the line.
These 16 stories will break your heart as 911 dispatchers poor their hearts out and talk about their most intense calls. It really makes you appreciate the hard work that they do.
"I had a call that started out pretty dumb, but was actually pretty serious:
Me: '911, where is your emergency?'
Caller: '123 Main St.'
Me: 'Ok, what's going on there?'
Caller: 'I'd like to order a pizza for delivery.' (Oh great, another prank call.)
Me: 'Ma'am, you've reached 911.'
Caller: 'Yeah, I know. Can I have a large with half pepperoni, half mushroom, and peppers?'
Me: 'Ummm... I'm sorry, you know you've called 911 right?'
Caller: 'Yeah, do you know how long it will be?'
Me: 'Ok, Ma'am, is everything ok over there? do you have an emergency?'
Caller: 'Yes, I do.'
Me: '...And you can't talk about it because there's someone in the room with you?' (My moment of realization)
Caller: 'Yes, that's correct. Do you know how long it will be?'
Me: 'I have an officer about a mile from your location. Are there any weapons in your house?'
Me: 'Can you stay on the phone with me?'
Caller: 'Nope. See you soon, thanks.'
As we dispatch the call, I check the history at the address and see there are multiple previous calls about domestic issues. The officer arrives and finds a couple -- the female was in bad shape, and the boyfriend was there too. The officer arrests him after she explains that the boyfriend had been mistreating her for a while. I thought she was pretty clever to use that trick. Other dispatchers I worked with had similar things happen, but that was a first for me. So in short, this wasn't a dumb call, it just started out that way."
"I work overnight so most of the time the calls we get are pretty legit. But occasionally...
I've had a guy call in because he was looking at the weather radar and said that law enforcement, NOAA, and the CIA were covering up the fact that the storm he was looking at was going to destroy the city. There was no storm. There was no rain or wind. It was clear outside, had been for weeks and remained that way for weeks afterward.
Another woman called in because she said someone broke into her home and was now currently sitting on her couch looking at his phone. She said some noise woke her up and she saw the light on his phone when she opened the bedroom door. I asked the usual questions including if she had a dog and whether it was alerted to the noise. She said the dog was asleep on the bed and that he usually barks at strange noises (a huge clue that nothing is happening, most dogs will alert to strange noises at night). An officer goes on the scene doesn't see anything. Turns out the light she saw was from one of those electronic picture frames, that she owned, and knew about.
Another break-in call. A woman called at around 2:30 in the morning, said she heard someone knocking on her door and heard some noises outside. I got two or three officers headed her way. Through our conversation, I found out she was hiding in the closet. Then I asked when the last time she heard or saw something strange. She got very quiet and said that she last heard something at around 11 pm. Turns out she had been working up the nerve to call 911, sitting in the closet for three and a half hours.
These are some of the more memorable ones I've had recently."
"I had a guy call me one night and tell me he had died. Obviously, I was pretty sure he was incorrect in his diagnosis so I started questioning him. He would not tell me where he was but I could hear him walking around (leaves underfoot and such). This was in the fall and it was cold outside. I was asking him what he could see and all he would tell me is that he died and needed me to call his mom and tell her, but wouldn't give me her name or a phone number. Eventually, the police dispatcher (who was still listening on the line) was able to get enough clues from him to make an educated guess as to his location. Sure enough, the police officers found him in a cemetery, baring it all and zoned out and sitting on a random headstone. He was most assuredly not dead.
Another dispatcher friend of mine had a person call and tell us that 'she' wasn't looking too good and needed an ambulance. They question the caller and start CPR instructions. It took several minutes for the crew to make a scene and when they entered they found our caller performing CPR on a bathrobe. The caller had recently moved to our coverage area and had been in a mental facility beforehand.
Also, when I worked on the law enforcement side, people would frequently call to get the correct time to set their clocks. They knew that we had atomic clocks and ours were always correct."
"This one was probably the hardest call I've ever taken. The phone rings and there is a little girl on the phone. She is screaming, 'Daddy is dead.' I can't calm her down at all, she keeps crying on the line, and in the background, I can hear two other small girls crying.
I was watching our call logs and more and more calls are coming in the same area for shots fired. Three guys decided to break into a house and thought it was empty, so they rang the doorbell to make sure. The dad startled them and they shot him. The mother ran out to see what happened and she got shot as well. The guys took off leaving the three girls aged 8 to 12 years old to call 911. We are not allowed to disconnect a phone until police or EMS are on the scene.
My heart was breaking for a small family that had seemingly lost both parents in one sad accident. I listened to the girl for six minutes and 37 seconds before officers arrived on the scene.
The good news is that the mother lived."
"I answered a 911 call from a gentleman stating someone was chasing him. He had no idea where he was other than it was near the beach.
I used the phase 2 location from his cell phone to start officers on the way while I tried to get more information because English was not his first language and he seemed extremely panicked.
He's in a vehicle and another vehicle was chasing him. I heard sirens in the background and asked him if he knew who was chasing him. He said yes, that it was border patrol and he was scared and refused to pull over for them. I convinced him to pull over for one of my officers and that was the end of it."
"I had a woman call who was hiding in her closet and told me her ex-boyfriend was breaking into her house. She told me that they had a violent history.
I got her information and told her to do what she needed to do to stay safe and leave the line open no matter what. While officers were en route, I heard him come in through a window and start beating her. He heard sirens coming and took off. Luckily, since she left the line open, I was able to let the officers know when he took off and they caught him near the apartment.
I think the worst part was the two minutes after he left, I sat there listening to the woman weeping and not being able to comfort her because she was too far away to hear me."
"This was at about 2:30 am, when the bars close.
Me: '911, what's your emergency?'
Caller: 'There's a pig in the road. A big one.'
Me: 'Sir, where are you?'
Caller: 'At the stoplight. It's the biggest pig I have ever seen. Get someone here now!'
This is a one-stoplight town, the bar is near the intersection.
Me: 'How big is the pig?'
Caller: 'About the size of a Volkswagen.'
Me: 'How much have you had to drink?'
Caller: 'I'm not inebriated! It's a giant pig the size of a small car! What is wrong with you people?'
Officers showed up to find a full-grown hippo that had escaped from the local wild animal park. A very... big... pig."
"I was a 911 dispatcher for a short time. You get a lot of really stupid calls, usually people who don't get the concept that 911 is for emergencies, but it's not a big deal to me unless they use an unusual amount of resources (calling a lot, faking information to get higher priority, using an ambulance as a taxi, etc...).
One guy called FRANTICALLY saying that he saw the dead body of a young woman, in her early 20s, wearing nothing but shorts. He gave a detailed description, including hair color, skin color, body position, the whole bit and said she was by the side of the interstate (in the middle of an affluent suburban area at rush hour) so we figured this had to be a really fresh crime scene.
We started scrambling together officers to get there ASAP, a big hassle considering it's rush hour and they're all dealing with accidents and stuff like that. On top of that, we can't say what the issue is on the radio is because we have too many busybodies who monitor police radio, then call us to try to get juicy details, or otherwise meddle. So we have to get these officers to their cars to read the computer, leaving other issues, etc. And these are suburban cops in the Midwest, so a murder is a big deal.
The guy calls back a few minutes later. 'Uh, I checked again, it's a dead deer.'
Peeved, I announce on the radio that the trip is canceled: 'it was a deer.'
An officer sarcastically calls back: 'With shorts on?'"
"1979, New York City. I got a call from a crying child - a little boy - saying his mom and dad were fighting and his dad said he was going to throw the mom out of the window.
I could hear a terrible fight going on in the background - a woman screaming, things breaking, a man yelling, etc... The poor kid didn't know his address. We didn't have the technology for caller ID and would have to use reverse telephone books. A trace would take forever.
While I was trying to get the address, I heard a horrific scream and glass breaking. A few seconds later, the other operators in the room started getting calls about a woman lying in the courtyard who came out of a window. The worst of all is that I am sure someone else in this apartment building must have heard this fight but no one called for help until it was too late. Poor kid.
Working 911 in NYC during the '70s/'80s was a nightmare. The city had a high crime rate and poor technology."
"I had a kid call from in the middle of the woods not knowing exactly where he was. He and his father were out walking in the woods one fall day, but I never got the full story. A tree randomly fell on his father's head, killing him instantly.
The boy, who was about 13 years old or so at the time, called 911 and was freaking out. I advised him on what to do and walked him through CPR. He told me there was blood gushing out the back of his father's head.
The father was dead and I was trying to keep the boy calm and make him feel like he at least tried to save his dad. I stayed on the line with him for about 15 minutes until the medics got there.
He cried and cried, was confused as to where he was, and then he said the worst thing I've ever heard:
'Don't leave me, Daddy. I can't do this yet without you. You can't leave now.' He just kept saying that over and over again.
I'm a young guy and this just wrecked me that day. I had to step out and take a walk."
"One that sticks with me is a 14-year-old girl that called the police for a disturbance. The officers showed up and everything seemed average. Her parents advised the reporting party that she was upset because she wasn't allowed to go out with her boyfriend. The officers were getting ready to leave after being there for 40 minutes but something seemed off to them.
The two officers took the 14-year-old outside and near their patrol units to speak to her. While they were walking outside, the girl's mother, stepfather, and two sisters went and stood on the porch to see if they could see what was going on. They were unable to hear due to the officers and the girl being on the other side of the street. It was then when the stepfather started pacing and went inside. The girl broke down and told the officers that her stepdad has been violating her for years and he didn't want her to go see her boyfriend because he was jealous.
The officers looked up and at that moment, they saw the stepfather shoot the mother in the back of the head. He proceeded to shoot the reporting party's older sister in the chest and her younger sister in the leg as they started running away. One officer returned fire while the other was shielding the reporting party. The stepfather ran inside and barricaded himself. The reporting party told the officer that her two brothers were inside with the stepfather. Back up arrived and surrounded the home.
The officers made forced entry after they heard shots from inside. They stormed the residence and found the stepfather had shot himself in the head with his two biological sons in the same room.
The mother died instantly, the older sister died instantly, the younger sister was hospitalized (I don't know if she made it, just know she was flown to a hospital miles away.) This 14-year-old lost her family. Later, the investigators were taking her statement and her only reply was, 'Last time I tried to tell someone the truth, I lost my family, doesn't matter what I say. I'm alone now.'
It took hours to get in contact with the family. Eventually, we were able to get in touch with her grandparents and she left with them.
I think about this kid a lot and hope she is okay."
"It wasn't my call, but one we had to listen to in training to prepare us for what we were getting into. Guy calls 911 to say there's a body in his house. They go through their routine, eventually getting the name of the deceased. That's where things get odd.
When you call 911, a caller ID displays your information so we can confirm it. When the man gave the operator the name of the deceased, it was the same as the caller ID. The operator tells him she needs the deceased man's name, not his, as they'd already confirmed it.
In a completely normal tone, he replies, 'Oh, no, I'm just telling you where to find my body and letting you know it wasn't a murder.'
The dispatcher spent the next few minutes trying to talk him out of it, doing her best to either convince him not to do it or trying to at least stall him until the team gets there. The entire time, the man remains calm, almost cheery, like he was just shrugging it off. 'Nope, I made up my mind, I'll just be in the bedroom.' The cops didn't get there in time. The dispatcher heard him say, 'Thanks, bye!' before a booming blast and the man's death rattle.
The cops arrived a few minutes later.
I think it was just weird how calm he was about it. I've heard of suicidal people having that sort of upbeat disposition when they finally make a plan to go through it, but actually hearing it really stuck with me."
"I was training a new dispatcher and listening to their calls when they got an open line cellphone call, and all I could hear was the sound of multiple kids crying and yelling at someone to stop, then a male voice yelling at them to shut up. A female voice was trying to reason with the male, 'Come on, baby, let's just go in the other room. Let's make love. It's okay.'
The male was screaming that he was going to kill everyone there and then himself. Because the call came from a cell phone, we didn't have an exact address as you'd get with a landline. We thought we found the relative address when one of our coworkers said that they received a call from a kid that snuck out the window and called from a neighbor's house. I told my trainee to listen and put in the notes everything we're hearing. The police got there, and we could hear the male (who has been screaming at everyone) suddenly get quiet and go, 'Oh no, the cops are here. Everyone shut up. Stop crying.'
We then heard him answer the door and like a switch flipped and he calmly talked to the officers, 'Oh, hello. What's going on, officers?'
The guy did end up having a weapon that he could have used to kill everyone and himself, just like he was screaming about. They arrested him.
In the end, the female declined to press charges, and he didn't get any real jail time. But listening to those kids screaming and crying and begging him to 'stop hurting her' still gets me."
"A woman called, she was screaming her head off. She had driven into a body of water, her car was filling up with water, she couldn't open the door, she didn't know where she was, etc... Her kids were in the car and she screamed, 'We're all going to die!'
Meanwhile, I'm thinking, 'Uh, what the heck do I do now?'
I tried to find out details about where she is - we knew she can see a massive shopping center but it could be anywhere even remotely close to that. Local units all fanned out to the different large ponds/streams it could be.
I called the Coast Guard and Marine support units to help.
We tried to find out what kind of body of water it is and how big it is, and she was just too panicked to answer any questions whatsoever. We managed to get the registration of her vehicle and that was it.
Turned out she had driven into a flooded road. Absolutely zero danger of the water going past her knees. She and her kids were fine."
"Christmas Eve night, I answered a 911 call from a hysterical woman who was crying so hard she couldn't breathe. I asked her what was going on, and she told me these exact words: 'My boyfriend and I were watching a movie. I fell asleep. I woke up and he wasn't here.'
I thought this was a little odd, so I said, 'Okay ma'am, do you know where he may have gone?'
She wasn't done. She said, 'I found him... in our closet, he hung himself... with our bed sheets.' I walked her through cutting him down and starting CPR. In the middle of it, he started making this long raspy exhale that sounds exactly like something from a horror movie; it's the rest of his air leaving his lungs. She started getting hysterical again begging him, 'Oh my god, he's breathing, please breathe baby, please breathe.' But I knew that's not what he was doing.
Police/fire/ambulance got there and of course, the guy was dead. I felt so bad for that woman. That's the only call that has ever stuck with me."
"I was a 911 dispatcher in a small rural county for about two years. After some training, I was finally taking calls and the very first 911 call that came in was from a middle-aged man who was driving with his elderly mother.
He had stopped to get gas or something and accidentally locked his keys in the car, and his mother couldn't figure out how to get out of the locked car. I was all, 'Ok sir, can you ask her to open the door?'
He said, 'I'm trying to get her to unlock the door but I don't think she understands what I'm saying.' I was at a loss for words as this wasn't the emergency I was expecting. Meanwhile, I was looking to my supervisor for some assistance and she was laughing so hard she can't help. They eventually figured it out among themselves, but it seemed pretty stupid at the time.
Other great calls include the kid turning himself in for having illicit substances simply to spite his girlfriend (who according to the caller wouldn't 'STOP BOTHERING ME!').
Another call was in the middle of the night from an elderly lady who was worried about the ice on her front step as she had to go to the doctor in the morning. And the craziest call came from a woman who was convinced that the evil teenagers in her neighborhood were in her attic making mischief and causing fires that they then used to throw her dogs and cats into. This lady also called once to inform me that her house was prepared for takeoff and she wanted to get clearance. Turns out she wasn't all there in the head."