Have you ever had to call 911? The people at the other end of that line are strangers trained to help us through a terrifying time. As part of National 911 Education Month and Telecommunicators Week, I visited a call center and heard some amazing stories, plus I got the 411 on how and when to call 911.
Brian Wagner works at a call center in Crete, one of eight centers in Will County, which all told take 25,000 calls every year. He has been at the other end of those calls for more than twenty years. He’s heard it all -- from life threatening to simply lazy. He’s had people call about stray animals and others looking for directions.
As a 16-year veteran, Sharon Wall has dealt with almost every emergency and says weather emergencies are the trickiest.
“If somebody's getting robbed, you say 'Go hide' or 'Get out if it's safe to do so,' but if you are in the middle of a storm or their car’s in the middle of a flooding street, there's no where for them to go," Wall said.
Call volume skyrockets during severe weather and Wagner said you can help by telling the dispatcher these crucial facts: where you are, who you are, what you see, and what kind of damage there is.
And yes, according to Wall, they deal with rude calls too.
“If they're swearing at me, saying 'I pay your payroll,' I'll just listen," Wall said. "They'll say, 'Are you still there?' and I'll say 'I'm just waiting for you to finish so I can ask my questions.' I know they're upset and it's nothing I can control. I know they're just venting.”
Fire, serious injury, accidents, drowning, death, burglary, assault, and domestic violence are all other reasons you should call 911.
Finally, if you call 911, remember they can only help if you listen and answer.
“When you dial 911, don't hang up. Stay on the line and answer all the questions that the dispatcher asks of you. Stay on the line with her until she tells you to hang up,” said Pamela Buzan, the Director of Communications for Eastcom-911.
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