A Gun & A Caller
Every night is the same when I work, answer the phones and answer the radios. I sit in a chair staring at six computer screens that all show me different information, information that I have to use to protect not only the people on the other end of that radio but the ones on the other end of the phone. Every minute my job description changes, I am call taker, then radio operator, then law enforcement, medical personnel, firefighter, investigator, doctor and the list goes on and on. I am a 911 Dispatcher. Tonight started out the same way, until that frantic call comes in, the call we all dread to hear every time we sit in this chair. That call that puts someone’s life in my hands. That call where on the other side the person is lying in the floor and the caller is looking to me on what to do. “911 What’s Your Location?” I ask. I hear the screaming in the background and the desperation in the callers voice as I start preparing my mind for the hysteria that comes not just from the caller but the coordination of all the personnel I will have to send out. “He just shot himself, I can’t believe it he shot himself.” The caller screams My heart starts pounding, my mind is racing as those words come out of her mouth. Ok, ok get yourself under control you can do this I tell myself, all of this in just seconds from hearing her screaming voice. You can’t help him if you cannot get her to calm down and tell you her location. “Ma’am I want to help you but you have to give me your location.” “771 Oak Street.” She shouts in my ear. I enter the address into the computer and begin running it through my head, and preparing an action plan. “Dispatch to available officers,” I calmly state over the radio as I press the button to open the radio channel. “Car 41 go ahead,” I hear from the officer on the other end. “Car 41 I need you to be enroute to 771 Oak Street for an attempted suicide, I am dispatching EMS to this location and will be staging them down the road until you clear the scene. “That’s 10-4 dispatch I am enroute.” I tell myself that was great job, now you need to get some medical assistance on the way. I open the paging console on the radio and press EMS then page. As I listen to the tones go off, and wait for them to end I prepare what I am going to say. “Attention any available EMS Unit. I need you to be enroute to 771 Oak Street for an attempted suicide.” My attention then focuses back to my caller now. I have had an open phone line with her the whole time so I have been able to hear everything she has been saying, and its not been good. I begin running through my head what I need to ask her. I get her name, then I ask her phone number, I explain I need her to stay on the phone with me, I have to have an update on him. I begin asking her is he breathing? She says yes… Thank God I am thinking he is still alive. Ok, ok, is he awake can he talk to you? No, he has his eyes closed and he has not been answering me. “DAD!!” I hear her shout. O’ Man its her dad as her words hit my mind, but I have to stay calm. God please help me stay calm. What’s next? He shot himself, where is the gun? “Ma’am, where is the gun?” I ask. She tells me it's still sitting beside him. Alright, we have to secure this gun I tell myself. I tell her to get it in another room and shut the door. She tells me ok and moves the gun to the bedroom and shuts the door. I let my officers know this on the radio so that they know things are secure when they get there, but I cannot let EMS go ahead in yet I have to let my officers do their job. If he dies, which I pray he doesn’t, then they have a bigger job to do. I can’t think about that though, I have to do everything I can to save this mans life including calming his daughter. “Ma’am are you there alone?” She tells me her husband is there. Good, she has help I think to myself. Where are my officers at? Five minutes, it's only been five minutes, feels like twenty. Get back on track I tell myself. We have to control the bleeding. I tell her to have her husband get a towel or something and put pressure on the wound. As they do that, I hear EMS go enroute to the scene. “That’s 10-4 got you enroute. You’re going to 771 Oak Street, your patient has a self inflicted gunshot wound and we have people on scene who are applying pressure to the wound now. I need you to stage up at the Intersection of Oak Street and Davenport while officers clear the scene.” My EMS unit responds back to let me know they copied my instructions, and I move back to the caller. The daughter is starting to calm down a little bit. She hears the calm in my voice and it helps. I need to get mind off what’s happening again. I need you to see if somebody can go out to the road and help flag my officers in. At this point I have 3 officers responding to the scene and I want them to find the scene as quick as I can because time is important in this. While I am working on controlling my caller, I hear my partner calling to check on a helicopter just in case we need it. Good, I think we need to keep things going to help minimize time and get help to this poor guy. I know times are hard and suicide seems the answer but this is not the answer he is looking for right now, nor his family is looking for. I can hear the love coming from his daughter as she worries about him. Don’t get distracted, how long has it been now. Seven minutes? Seven Minutes is a long time for these people. I tell her we need to keep an eye on your dad make sure he keeps breathing, if he stops breathing you have to tell me because then we will have to do CPR. I ask her if she knows CPR, I know the answer already but it is required we ask, sometimes somebody knows how to do it and that makes the job easier, she tells me no. I explain I can walk her through it. I hear my partner answer the radio behind me, EMS wants a patient update. She tells them everything I have typed into the computer. She makes sure that they remember to stage up away from the scene. I check to make sure the gun is still put away in the bedroom, and she assures me it is. I make sure they are still applying pressure on the wound, and again she assures me they are. “Car 41 on scene.” I hear over the radio in front of me. Wonderful I think in my head, I can get off the phone with my caller. I tell her great job and let her know I am going to disconnect with her now that they are there. We disconnect the phone and I prepare to start monitoring the radio traffic. EMS is staged where we told them and waiting for the ok from the officers. Officers almost immediately clear the scene and let us know to send EMS. We give EMS the clear and they move in to take over. My partner lets them know that the helicopter is on a flying standby. Then silence as the radio goes quiet, and all we can do is wait to hear from them on what to do next. Fifteen minutes, an eternity has gone by in fifteen minutes. I don’t want to relax my senses but I know I need to, but if I do I won’t be able to stay on my game and finish this call. In this job a minute is eternity, I can’t imagine what it was like for them to wait for the officers to get there in fifteen minutes, must have felt like hours or days to them. EMS yells over the radio let the helicopter know they can land in a field behind us we have it marked for them to land. We advise the helicopter that they can land at the scene and let the emergency personnel direct traffic from there. It’s amazing how all these emergency responders can coordinate together sometimes to help save a life. No matter how long I am doing this job I will never be able to understand it, all I can do is help direct it and hope its a success when I do. EMS comes over the radio to let us know that the helicopter is on the ground safe. Radio silence again as we wait. The waiting is the hardest, not seeing what’s going on is hard to stand sometimes. Sitting in a chair and trying to imagine the scene based on what you see on your GPS map and then where people are standing based on what you hear. That is the hardest thing to convey to your responders. I reflect on the call and look through all my notes on the computer to make sure I got everything on there. I make a few notes in my narrative in order to make sure everything is covered so if there is any questions the answers might be there. Then we hear that the helicopter is safely off the ground and has the patient enroute to the hospital. Great job guys I say to myself. All the units leave the scene and we go back to normal operations living with the mystery that we may not know the outcome of the call, but that is how it is the not knowing.