911 Operator

The phone clicked on and a female voice answered, "911, fire or emergency?"

A male caller with a shaky voice answered, "I just wanted to let you know," he said before pausing for a few deep breaths, "that I'm going to kill myself in a moment and you should send an ambulance or something over to pick up my body."

The operator was unfazed, "Now sir, don't do anything rash, I'm going to send a police officer over to your house and we'll find someone for you to talk to."

"I don't want anyone to talk to!" the caller shot back, "I just want you to come and pick up my fucking body!"

"Sir, please calm down, everything will be all right. A police officer is on the way, now why don't you talk to me and tell me what's wrong?"

The caller was sobbing loudly and wheezing every time he took a breath, "I… don't… want… to… talk…" he said between moans, "I just want to die."

"Sir, please stay on the line with me, I want you to talk with me. An officer will be there in a few minutes but I want you to…" POW. A gunshot rang out over the line. The sudden blast caused the operator to gasp loudly into the receiver. "Sir? Sir? Are you there sir?" she began calling over the line as she began loudly typing on her keyboard. There was no response.

After a few seconds of silence, the instructor got up from his chair and turned off the audiotape. He paced slowly in front of his class for a few moments, watching them closely, studying them for any signs to tell him who to look out for and who to try and nurture.

There were about twenty of them, mostly women and though ages varied almost all were younger than forty. They came from all walks of life, some showed up in little more than T-shirts and jeans while others appeared to be nicely dressed, the same went for the men in the class. But though there was little consistent about them, they all had a look of fear etched on their faces. All of their eyes were as wide open as they could get and their stares were blank and unfocused like someone had just hit them on the back of the head.

He had them where he wanted them.

The instructor took a moment to clear his throat, "This is your job people, or at least it could be," he said. The seemingly sudden noise shook everyone out of their blank stares and their eyes narrowed to focus on the instructor. "You all came here today to train to be 911 operators. This is what 911 operators do," he said motioning to the tape recorder.

"Being a 911 operator is a tough job physically, mentally and emotionally," he continued. "Physically, it requires spending long hours in a dark room staring at computer screens unflinchingly. Mentally, it requires extreme memorization, the ability to recall information under fire and the gift of staying calm under pressure. And finally emotionally, well, I think this tape shows you how hard the job can be emotionally. As a 911 operator, you WILL lose people you try to help. People will die on you because you couldn't do enough for them and that's a very hard burden for anyone to bear. But for an emergency operator, it's just another day on the job."

The class was so silent when the instructor paused he could hear them breathing. If he listened closely, he could distinguish between the patterns of those on the front row, some were heavy, some were light, but all of them were breathing very, very fast. "My name is Detective Joe DeBusa and my job is to train you in the procedures, techniques and regulations that you need to know to be a 911 operator. Your job is to decide if this occupation is right for you."

DeBusa took a seat on the corner of the heavy oak desk at the front of the classroom and paused for a second to let his eyes roam over the class one more time. No one had flinched, no one had moved, but he could tell they were all thinking very hard. "I know it seems like I'm trying to scare you off and I am. This is a very rewarding and fulfilling job, but operators who choke under pressure, who aren't ready for the job or decide too late that this line of work isn't for them, wind up doing much more harm than good. You have a bad day here and it's not that the accounting report is late or that the boss is going to be mad. Here, a bad day means someone dies."

Joe ran his fingers through his short black hair and took a moment to contemplate his appearance. He realized that he was the only Hispanic and only one of two non-white people in the room. Growing up in Texas he had gotten used to hearing Spanish stations on the radio and being surrounded by his culture. But ever since his move to the Midwest, he felt oddly out-of-place, like a foreigner in his own country.

He also felt over-dressed. His neatly pressed black suit and well-shined shoes made him look stuffy. Even the few women who had dressed up for the event were significantly more casual than he. However, his parents had always told him to dress one step above his audience and he smiled to himself knowing he had done just that.

Meanwhile, his class had trailed off into thought. Though he must have gone two minutes without speaking, no one spoke up to fill the silence. He had put the entire group on edge, a technique he'd mastered from doing this many times before. As he saw it, if he could weed out the weak now, that would give him more time to dedicate to those that might actually be taking calls.

"Now I look out on this class and I count about twenty of you," he continued, "In a class of twenty, a graduation class of eight is considered good for this type of course. That means about twelve of you, or over sixty percent of you, will either drop out or flunk out. That's just the way it is."

He stood up for a second and began walking down the aisle between the desks, "If you can't tell, I'm a bit of a hard-ass. But I'm a hard ass because I know how important it is for someone when they have an emergency to be able to call 911 and get a capable, competent and confident operator who can get them help in the quickest possible fashion. The job that you may grow to call routine will be made up of the most important minutes of other people's lives. Five minutes from your job stand between a heart attack victim and death, two minutes can get help to a serious automobile accident and thirty seconds can save a choking baby. These are the most critical moments in their lives, but it's your routine and your regular job."

Joe took a long sip from his water bottle. "Now we're going to adjourn for fifteen minutes and what I want you to do is go outside and think. You can talk amongst yourselves, do some deep contemplation or whatever you need to do, but decide once and for all if this is the job for you, if you're ready for this. There's no shame whatsoever in deciding you're not ready, I'd rather you say so now so I can spend time training those who will take calls. In fact, by being honest with yourself now, you might save more lives than you could by working the phones. So step outside, and if you have any questions or need to talk with me, I'll be right here."

The only sounds the class members made as they got up to leave was the occasional squeak of a desk across the tile floor. They piled out of the door in the back of the room and almost immediately started murmuring amongst themselves. Joe, wanting to get comfortable, plopped down with his water in a folding chair that was set up along the back wall, sipping from the bottle in quiet contemplation. Though he didn't intend to eavesdrop, one conversation taking place right outside the door, which was held ajar by a small block of wood, was coming in so clearly he couldn't ignore it.

"Claire, listen to me, you can't back out on me now, you said we were going to do this together. I need you for support."

"I didn't know it would be this way. I mean, I don't want to spend all day thinking someone died because I wasn't good enough. I haven't held a job in ten years, ten years Diane and I don't want this to be my first one, I can't handle the pressure."

"Do you remember what you were like back in college, back before you met Hank? You were driving fast, partying hard and studying just to survive. When things got tough you always pulled through. You know you can do it. It' just that… that… that… Hank. It's Hank Goddammit! He kept you cooped up in that house for ten years and didn't let you do anything. Now that he's gone sleeping with that bimbo and you've got the house, he's got you thinking you've lost your nerve."

"I don't know, I just… Maybe I have lost my nerve. I just didn't think it was going to be this way."

"How'd you think it was going to be? We're training to be 911 operators dummy. What did you expect? Cake and roses?"

The sight of someone standing over him interrupted his eavesdropping. It was a guy from the back of the class wanting out. Joe pulled out a notepad from his shirt pocket, jotted the guy's name down, wished the gentleman luck and sent him off with a firm handshake. The man was followed by two women, the first was a professional woman who had decided she didn't want the stress and the second a recent high school graduate who was fighting tears the entire time. He gave each of them the same treatment he gave the first and sent them off with a handshake and a reassuring smile.

After the second woman left there was a break in the action and he moved to the front of the room in order to begin organizing his things while the students finished up. But when he got to the desk, another student came in the room, this one a young male was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a smug grin on his face. "Can I help you?" Joe asked him.

"Yeah," the man said, "I want to drop out of the class."

Joe pulled out his pad, "What's your name sir?"

"Names Randall, Randall Hewitt." Joe set about writing down the name when Randall spoke up again, "Just to let you know, I ain't scared or nothin'. I just don't want to be taking lessons from no border-nigger."

Joe didn't flinch. His parents had warned him about this type of thing and even named him "Joe" to help him blend in better. While he couldn't hide his skin color, his police training taught him to bury his emotions and not to respond to insults. Not that he ever came close to blowing up, whenever he began to get mad at someone, he always heard his mother saying, "Don't let anyone who calls you names get you upset. They ain't worth your time. Just pity them for the poor souls they are and pray that, some day, they grow to be half as strong as you."

Joe shook his head slightly and finished jotting down the name without missing a beat. He looked up into Randall's eyes, which were practically daring Joe to respond, and said, "I feel sorry for you Mr. Hewitt. Perhaps you'll try again another day."

But as Randall turned to walk away, Joe spoke up again, "You know Mr. Hewitt, I saw the way you jumped when you heard the gunshot on the tape. It's a scary thing isn't it?"

Randall looked back at Joe with his look of confidence replaced by confusion, "Naw, it didn't scare me none."

"It's ok if it did. It scared me when I first heard it. I was on the police force for four years before I started doing this. During that time I was shot at by three different people and one of them even hit me in my vest, right above the heart too. Yet every time I hear that shot, I jump a little inside. You never get used to it." Randall didn't say anything back, just looked at Joe in stunned silence. "We're all only human Mr. Hewitt, I hope someday you can realize that."

Randall said something unintelligible and shuffled his way out of the room. When the back of Randall disappeared behind the doorframe, Joe noticed someone else in the room with him. It was a plain-looking woman wearing a brand-new pantsuit. Joe didn't get to speak before she said, "Did he call you want I think he called you?

"Yeah, he did." Joe said grudgingly.

"I am so sorry about that," she said.

Though he didn't let on to it visually, Joe suddenly recognized the voice as belonging to the mysterious Claire he was eavesdropping on. "Don't be, I pity men like that and you have nothing to be sorry for Miss…"

"Miss Trist," she said, "Claire Trist."

"What can I do for you?" Joe asked.

"I'd like to withdraw from the class. I don't think I'm the right type of person for this job."

"I see," Joe said as he was pulling out his pad, "I'm sorry to hear that."

"It's ok, I just don't think I have the ability handle pressure, I know it sounds silly, but I guess I didn't realize how much pressure would be involved in the job."

"It's ok," Joe said. "But can you tell me something. Did you hear that whole conversation that just took place?"

"Pretty much. Why?" Claire asked.

"I was just wondering why you didn't say anything."

Claire stepped back at the question. While his voice wasn't particularly accusatory, she felt like she was being put on the spot. "I just figured you were a police officer and could handle these things. You looked like you had the situation under control and I didn't want to make things worse. I'm sorry if I offended you."

"Would you say it was a tense situation?" Joe asked sternly.

Claire loosened up a bit at the question, "Yeah, he just called you a border 'n-word' and, well, I was halfway expecting you to slug him."

"Tell me something. You made the right call in that tense situation. What makes you think that you can't do it in another?"

"Well," Claire stammered on her words for a second, "no one's life was on the line there."

Joe remained calm and focused, "His was and so could have yours. If you had escalated the situation, it could have gotten out of hand and someone could have gotten hurt or killed. But, you did the right then, even though it probably wasn't easy." Claire threw her gaze to the floor and drew a long breath as she began to calm down, "I think you have what it takes to do this job, you have the instinct at least. Why not sit through a few days of training and see what happens?"

"I don't know. I'm just not sure if this is for me or not."

"Well, in your case I don't see any harm in trying," Joe said in his the most reassuring voice he had. "Besides, it'll teach Hank a lesson," he added without thinking.

Immediately Claire snapped up to attention and Joe covered his mouth with the tip of his fingers as if to catch the words he just said, "How did you know?" Claire began to ask. However, midway through the question Claire's broke her gaze and shuffled her feet on the floor as if a realization had hit her. She sighed loudly to clear her throat, "I guess we were talking pretty loud."

"I'm sorry about that," Joe said trying to remain calm, "I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I just happened to hear." There was another long pause as Claire sat down on one of the student desks and began looking at the floor again, "I'm very sorry," Joe added again hoping to reassure.

There was a seemingly endless pause as Claire gathered her thoughts. When she was done, she had a slight smile across her face and a new look of confidence in her eyes. "It's alright. It's my fault anyways. Besides, I guess I owe you one."

"Does this mean you're staying?"

Claire let out a long sigh, "Yeah, I'll stay. The least I can do is give it a shot right? I have your permission now."

Joe smiled slightly, "Good. Now if you would be as kind as to step outside and tell the other's we're beginning, I'd appreciate it."

"Will do," Claire said as she turned to head for the door. Halfway through the room, she stopped in her tracks, looked back at Joe and said, "Oh, Joe?"

Joe looked up from the papers he was organizing, "Yes?"


This entry was posted in Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to 911 Operator

  1. midnights_enemy says:

    Raven that was a great story! I might consider being a 911 operater now..Scary job, but it seems rewarding to help people. Good day!

  2. Satanal says:

    Weird, and confusing. I want interesting stories, ones that couldnt happen every day. it was good, but not for me. SORRY!!!

  3. NiGhTmIsTrEsS says:

    I like it…. nice work.

  4. Tish says:

    Would like you to know, I am a 911 operator in a small midwestern town in Indiana. After reading this story, I was very touched by Joe. This was my first visit to this site and I will come back often to read more. Thank You so much for this story, it was so true and heartfelt.


  5. Cynthia says:

    This was so touching for me. I have been a 911 operator in NY for a little over a year now. After a week in the class we heard tapes, just like this. I have many, many moments where I just wanted quit. But my husband, and classmates keep encouraging me, and I did want to help people. I am glad I stuck it out, in my mind, the people on the other end of the phone wasn't someone I knew, it was a voice and it help me not to get too emotional. Once I had that 1st baby not breathing, first suicide, my family member is dead, I feel I can handle it now. It's all how you deal with it yourself. We all here have different ways of handling calls without getting attached to them. This professional needs people, someone with a heart to calm down that mother whose baby is not breathing and someone strong enough to be firm with an irate caller. It is rewarding.

    Good luck to whomever decides to get on board!!

  6. marlene says:

    i myself am considering being a 911 operator. i know its not going to be an easy job, but somebodys gotta do it. i just hope theres more people like joe out there. good story raven

  7. no one important says:

    the first couple lines really caught my attention. do u have a second part to this story? its good, but i hate to start reading something that has no ending and id like to see how this turns out.

  8. Illiana says:

    I just became a 911 operator. I came from a business and financial work background..but ti sucks making other people money…it is a EMPTY feeling. I worked for the Headquarters of Target, Citi Group.. all these high name places..but it left me empty unhappy and lonely. When I applied for this job my best friends thougth I was crazy.. but now being in this ob I feel a sense of pride and happiness that I have not felt before. Maybe my friends and family won't ever understand…but this is the BEST JOB I have ever had..even the bad days are good days for me. My first sucide call was one of a 17 year old girl that came home from school to find that her 11 year old brother committed suicide via a shotgun to the head. I was'nt abel to help that poor little boy…but I was there for his sister…and when I think of what I heard that dayand what I was able to do to help…it fills my heart with a unimaginable sense of purpose in my life.

  9. Lorena says:

    I loved the story…and I noticed in the story the instructor indicated he is in Texas. Where in Texas can you train for a 911 operator. I would like to pursue a career as one.

  10. Sologal says:

    I am in the initial stages of testing for a 911 operator position. I have some medical background and always loved that type of work and trying to be a bright spot in someone's bad day. I like the "Joe" story. Elitists need not get in this foxhole, they would be useless to someone in need. They also best not show their elitist colors should they find themselves in need of emergency services.
    For me, hearing someone else's fear, pain or need in their voices, makes me immediately want to fix it or help. I think everyone reacts to an injured child, but over a phone line, all panic and pain illicits the same response from me.
    If there is anyone out there with 911 experience with words of wisdom, I'd appreciate hearing them.

  11. Sharon says:

    I have been a LPN for over 25 years, I have been out of work for 3 years with breast cancer. I m thinking about applying for a 911 operator job. I do not want to go back to nursing, and I do want yo HELP people, and this could be it.. I needed to know what happens, and I enjoyed the story, and the other people that did say the job is rewarding, I am 51 is it too late to become a opeator?I know it does not pay what I could get in Nursing, but I believe i am being called back into a fulfilling job bit in a different arena.. Thanks

  12. David G. says:

    I found this site because I'm thinking of being a 911 operator so searched google to read up on what could be expected. This was a good lesson on a little of what to expect on the job. Good story!

  13. Jessica Richardson says:

    I now start my journey to become a 911 operator. This story is good for people to "get real" about what the road ahead in this field holds for them. I have always been the one to difuse an irate situation. When my efforts prevailed it was a high unlike any I've ever experienced. When I failed, I drew from the experience to better myself for the next time around. This is my passion. If you put passion behind anything you do, your unstopable. People who excell at this career have a gift. I think given to them from early on. They share this gift with the world even though you probably never get a thankyou. Really good story with a great message about how serious this really is.

  14. nykki says:

    thats it?? i need more. waht happens after that? is there gonna be a sequel? i cant believe u are just gonna leave me hanging like this! lol oh well it was great!

  15. Brandy says:

    Thank you for that insightful story. I am considering a career as a 911 operator and therefore am online doing some research on the subject. I will update you later on the results of my search. Thanks again!

  16. marco correia says:

    i loved it man..we can use it to other jobs too..to those we think we don't have what it takes to do..keep it up..peace djin89@hotmail.com

  17. Cayenne says:

    Some of this shocked me. THis looks more reqarding than ever. I am looking at becoming a 911 operator in Texas and want to know wha tis the best way to go about it in this state (training, certification, application locations, what agency does the hiring). ANy help would be great.


  18. Rose Pettiford says:

    This story was so inspiring;iwas disabled a year ago due to some surgeries;can't walk too good. I just went to school for meical billing and am about to graduate,but know this is not what I want to do.I am a people person,even if it is on the phone.I am a natural care giver and even before I became disabled I often thought abouthow I would like to be a 911 operator. I have worked many years with the mentally ill and am quite experienced at difussing volatile sutuations,and was always good in counseling situations;such as when a clt. was suicidal.I believe I have a calming effect on individuals when they are upset or feeling hopeless.I am old,though 59 and don't really know what the requirements are for this type of job.Could you send me more information. I am in Columbus Ohio Thanks,Rose Keep up the good work

  19. Charles Smith says:

    Hey that was a great story… I'm a 911 operator in Florida and have been for over a year. It takes a lot of skill and patience to do this job. Taking the type of calls used in your sotry are hard and even the seasoned dispatchers dread such calls.
    Anyway it was just a great story!

  20. Shirell says:

    I appericiate the scenio of a 911 call, and it appears that I might become a 911 operator. Can you send me any information on how to train for a 911 operator because I always wanted to do this job, but I don't know where to start to gather additional information regarding this kind of work. I reside in California. any helped will be grealtly appericiated.

    Regards, Shirell

  21. lauren h. says:

    This was a good and helpful story for me because it helped me think clearly about this area of work. How do you find training and work in this field?

  22. Chimere Smith says:

    I am totally committed to any job no matter what the situation is. I could handle that job and I am qualified.

  23. Tanji says:

    Thank you for this information. I too went to google to find direction on becoming a 911 operator. I will begin testing this month. My passion is to help people and I can not tolerate unfair treatment. The flip side is that I have a heart that does feel a lot of people's pain. I will continue looking to your site for direction. Thank you. If you will can I receive information on 911 operators. Thanx again

  24. Adriane says:

    Oh my gosh I loved this story this is so real i have a fieancae that is a 911 Operator and he goes through life and death threating situtions all the time and i miss him he is allways gone now since his brother had passed away. Well I can't write anymore so i will let u go bye



  26. Stephen says:

    I have been a 911 operator for 8 years and I am a training officer. I loved the story. It really shows people what it takes to be a 911 operator. It really provides a realistic look into the training that takes place in 911 communications academies. It brought back memories of traning for me. Thanks for posting this. I hope people that are looking into this line of work will realize how difficult it is and I hope they will give it a try. We need more people in this line of work to help save lives.

  27. Ian says:

    how do i get employment info of becoming a 911 operator for NY city?

  28. deathbyimitation says:

    Is that what it is really like to be a 911 operator? I could never think of doing that. Your story was fantastic and it has inspired me to write a poem. Thank you for taking the time to share your story writing talent with the world.

  29. Judith says:

    I've worked many jobs Ive wanted to be an operator since I was in the fourth grade people matter. to be able to give what is part of myself is what I know is my calling can you provide me with the information needed to become a 911 operator I live in Clarkston, GA since I am new to this area and starting over I decide to do me and to help in this way is my dream job

  30. Davis says:

    I enjoyed reading your story.

  31. Vivianet says:


  32. matthew coleman says:

    My name is Matthew Coleman. I am a 911 operator in Fresno County. This story is so powerful that I wouls like to share it with my co-workers. Everything the story stated is so true. Now if they could only get help for us operators.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.