What is your Emergency? If you have ever heard that question then there’s a good chance that you or someone you care about needs help. The expectation of the nameless operator at the other end of the phone is that they will set the wheels in motion, quite literally, to get you the best team of professionals as fast as safely possible to be on your side.
The reassuring voice you hear is a 911 operator – a highly trained professional who deals with tragedy and trauma daily, in fact 24/7. Their role is to stay calm, cool and collected and handle your safety or life threatening situation in professional manner. Imagine the stories of human tragedy they encounter. Imagine the stress. Most people haven’t the faintest idea what kind of dedication is at the heart of a 911 operator’s career choice. Here is only one example from only one evening at work.
In my former role as violence prevention trainer with the Nova Scotia Government I used an actual recording of a 911 call in training sessions to demonstrate the impact on children who witness violence. The tape came from my colleagues in Boston where such calls are admissible as court evidence. Nova Scotia rolled out a similar progressive family violence prosecution policy in 1996 and I was on the team that trained the justice system professionals.
The 5 minute excerpt of this call to emergency services was placed by a 6 year old girl named Lisa. While Lisa is talking to the 911 operator, we can hear a man and woman screaming in the background as an assault is taking place. Lisa yells down the hall, “Don’t hurt the baby.” The 911 operator remains singularly focused and calms Lisa down while doing what she was trained to do. Lisa courageously responds to very adult, and potentially life saving questions that make the response team’s job safer and easier. Questions like: Are there any weapons in the house? How many people are there and what do they look like? What part of the house are they in? The operator encourages Lisa to stay on the line while reassuring her over and over that help is on the way. Listening to this recording has made even the burliest police officer in my training session tear up. The police arrived and the assailant was arrested safely and charged. Just another a day in the life of an unsung hero at work.
I am inspired to sing 911 operators praises because I am irate that a man in the news from beautiful Cape Breton takes them very much, and dangerously, for granted. This man has been investigated for calling 911, now get this, 875 times in the last 2 months. He’s been arrested, his landline disconnected, and charged under the Emergency 911 Act for, “placing false, frivolous and vexatious calls.” It’s against the law for a very good reason! What a waste of precious time that might be needed elsewhere (every call must be responded to, yes all 875 in the last 60 days) and what a waste of taxpayers money. My anger is only tempered by the suspicion that this man must be dealing with significant mental health challenges.
911 operators are unsung heroes by definition because they receive little recognition or gratitude because they do the good work behind the scenes. It’s one thing to take them for granted and quite another to abuse their time.
Your 911 operator is your neighbor, your bus mate, a soccer mom, a hockey Dad, the person who sings behind you in church and your fellow shopper looking for the sales. Yet when these special people put on the headset and plug into the phone system they get down to business with efficiency and a cool collected professionalism that is to be admired and respected. They are the front line unsung heroes of an emergency service that never sleeps and they deserve our thanks.
The irony is we could thank them in person right now by dialing just 3 numbers but that is illegal, and rightly so. So please, both you and your kids, think of all the 911 Operators with a grateful heart the next time you pick up your phone or hear a siren in your neighborhood. It’s a small but important way that we can sing the praises of all the unsung heroes out there dedicated to our safety.
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