Updated: Feb 6, 2020
By Ryan Dedmon, 911 Training Institute & Lloyd Brownell, Police Dispatcher
The following is an imagined open letter exchange between a formerly distraught 911 caller and the dispatcher who answered the call:
We’ve talked before over the phone. You probably don’t remember. I imagine you’ve talked to hundreds, or even thousands, of people just like me who have called 911. Or maybe you do remember me. After all, how could you forget? And that is why I’m writing.
It all happened so fast. Things got out of control. Chaos ensued. I didn’t know what to do; no one else around me knew what to do. I was scared, like never before in my entire life. As the fear took over, I began to panic. I needed help! That’s when I called 911.
As soon as I heard your voice answer the phone, I started talking as fast as I could. Although it made sense to me, it probably sounded like incoherent rambling to you. I became more frustrated. Angry. I started shouting. I wasn’t upset with you personally, but rather with everything that was happening. Terrible, bad things like this are supposed to happen to other people. Now that it was happening to me, I was completely overwhelmed. That’s when I heard your voice calling my name.
I don’t even remember telling you my name, but when I heard you say it I snapped back to reality. And I remember you offering me a statement of reassurance. You said, “Take a deep breath and try to stay calm; I’m right here with you and I’m going to help.” Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone anymore. It put my mind at rest. You had questions, so many questions, but were quick to explain why you needed the information and what you were doing with it. You stayed on the phone with me the entire time giving me instructions, but also comforting encouragement.
And then help arrived. When the police officers, firefighters, and paramedics arrived, they all quickly took control of the scene making it safe and offering aid. They knew exactly where to go and what to do, and I realized that was only because you had continually updated them with the information I provided you over the phone. I thanked them all. But I never got to thank you, dispatcher.
I’ve never had to call 911 before this, so I didn’t know what to expect or how it would work. I was a complete wreck: scared, confused, angry, and impatient with you. I’m sorry. I want to apologize, and I want to thank you. Now I know the best working part of the 911 Emergency System isn’t any fancy, high-tech piece of advanced technology; it’s the human dispatcher. Dear dispatcher, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Sincerely, A Formerly Distraught 911 Caller
Dear 911 Caller,
Thank you very much for your kind words, although no “Thank You” is needed. I would like you to know that I do remember your call. Yes, I have dealt with numerous calls over the years and many of them have stayed with me. In particular, I remember your call because of the very serious nature of the situation. Your call is one that I will always remember.
When events occur so fast, are uncontrollable and become chaotic, that is what we at 911 are here for. When you and no one around you does not know what to do, we are here for you. That is exactly what 911 dispatchers are trained for: to help people who are in dire need and scared like you were.
When I answered your call and you started speaking, yes you were talking fast, but I was generally able to ascertain what was happening. I know you feel that you may have sounded angry and frustrated, then started to shout, but I did not take it personally. I knew it was the situation you were in that was the issue. Yes, unfortunately sometimes terrible things do happen very close to home that are completely overwhelming. But again, that is what we at 911 are here for.
Although you do not remember saying it, you did tell me your name. When I spoke your name, not only did it bring your attention (if only momentarily) to me, but it was also to show you that I was listening and cared about what was happening. I wanted to reassure you that I was there for you and that I was sending help to you. When I asked if you wanted me to stay on the line with you, it was to further reassure you and to let you know that I would be with you until our personnel were there.
I am pleased that once the police officers, firefighters, and medics arrived that they were able to take control of the situation quickly. Unfortunately, I did not hear about what had transpired after your call. Most times, we dispatchers do not hear about the final details because of the sheer volume of calls we deal with each day. So, I am relieved to hear that you are now doing alright and I hope that the rest of your family is as well.
Once again, no apology nor thank you is needed. It was an honor to have served you and to help you in your time of need.
Take Care, Your 911 Dispatcher