Emergency dispatchers have one of the toughest jobs. They filter through calls all day, sending units to those who need help. They get the prank calls from teenagers trying to be funny. But more often than not, they get serious calls that chill them to the bone. These are the scariest 9-1-1 emergency dispatchers have had to answer.
"One of the first calls I ever took. Woman calls up and asks about the process of filing a restraining order. She discusses how her boyfriend has been abusive and controlling.
Mid conversation the doorbell rings, she puts me on hold opens the door and I hear yelling. Guy barges in and starts beating on her and I'm sitting there helpless listening, because I didn't have her address yet. Luckily, I did have her name and within a few minutes we got her address and got help to her. She was pretty badly injured but lived, and he is still in jail.
That call made me doubt myself and if I was in the right profession, but I stuck with it and it has been rewarding (though sometimes sad)."
"I was a 911 operator for 10 years. The scariest is probably different from worst. My scariest was an active shooter in a high rise. Just sitting on the line trying to give the best directions so every one makes it out okay.
I have two worsts.
When I first started out, I worked for a rural county and some areas were very far from help. One night I got a call from a group of people who were in an accident and their car caught fire. The girl I was speaking with was stuck in her seat belt and as the fire spread she was in terrible amounts of pain. She kept begging me to send help and I was but it was far away. I stayed with her until the phone dropped. She died but her friends got out of the car.
The other was a hanging. The father called me for a welfare check and I was putting in the call when he got to the house. He said the door was unlocked, so I stayed landline while he went inside and he found his son. The pain at the moment he walked out and told his wife was so horrible and raw."
"One that always sticks with me is the guy who phoned to tell me he'd shot himself in the head. He was slurring his words and sounded bad. But no, he'd actually shot himself in the head and was dead by the time the crew got there. That was a weird one to get my head around.
I also took a call from a 15-year-old kid who came home from school to find his dad hanging. So I had to basically ask him if he was cold, could he cut him down, all the usual while this poor kid was panicking. And then the kid stops answering my questions... and the dispatcher next to me gets the emergency call from the neighbors saying they don't know what's going on, but there's a kid standing in the street just screaming.
I think about that poor kid a lot, and I absolutely detest his father for doing that to him, when he knew his son would be the one who'd find him.
Probably the other one that stands out is the call from the woman who'd just been assaulted. She'd been coming home from a club, and someone had pushed through her door behind her as she unlocked it. When he left, she called me. I still remember the way she screamed when she heard knocking on her door again, and I had to yell at her to try to make her understand it was the police, and not the guy coming back. I didn't sleep well after that night shift at all."
"When I was younger, I applied to be a 911 operator for the city I was living in northern California. I got through most of their tests and interviews, which there were numerous. The pool of applicants was over 200 for about 8 positions. I got down to the last dozen applicants then they played some recordings for us.
The recording I listened to was a young girl calling 911 from inside a closet. She was crying and hysterical saying that her dad was in the house with a weapon and was going to kill her mom. You could hear the mother screaming in the background and the operator was really calm and collected. She got the little girl to keep her voice down and whisper and tried to keep her on the line. You could hear the shots in the background.
I couldn't listen to it anymore. I didn't want to find out what happened next, so I don't know the outcome. I knew I couldn't handle that then. I don't think I could take something like that now."
"I worked as an ambulance dispatcher when I was pregnant with my kid. This was my last night shift before maternity leave. We worked in a system where the county 911 dispatchers would take the calls, then tell us where to go and what was happening.
This one was: 'Caller says that his wife had a baby and something is very wrong.'
That was already bad. I sent an ambulance.
Less than 60 seconds after going on scene, the paramedic came up on the radio and said, 'We need a second ambulance.'
So I sent a second ambulance. About a minute after going on scene, they left, transporting one patient.
The first rig transported one emergent as well. They were at the hospital for about half an hour before one of the EMTs called me and gave me the lowdown on why both crews' cleanup was taking so long. He said that the mother didn't believe in Western medicine, so she didn't get prenatal care. The baby was born with his intestines outside of his body, but the bigger problem was that the baby wasn't breathing. The mother was in a second ambulance due to severe internal bleeding. The baby did not survive.
My relief came in when it was time for me to go. In a moment of hormonal irrationality, I refused to leave work. I told him, 'No. Look at the call. I'm not going. I'll just stay here and not go on maternity leave.'
I did eventually go home, and have the kid, and he was fine...but that one still haunts me."
"Caller: muffled voice.
Me: 'I can't understand you, what's the location of the emergency?'
Caller: sounding clearer, like Kermit the frog, gives address 'I'm going to hang myself.'
Me: 'Sir, we can help you, talk to me? What's been happening?'
Caller: 'I just want you to move my body before my family get back.'
Me: please, there's nothing that can't be....
CRACK GARGLING silence
I had to stay on the line until I heard police on scene. He had a hands free kit on. I wasn't even allowed a 5 minutes break but I took 10. The duty manager found me and told me how busy we were. I told her what had happened. I kid you not her response was 'man up' (she was the tough manager). So she made me get back on the phones.
An hour later the DM comes back through crying, said she'd tried to listen to the call but had to stop. Said she was so sorry. Gave me the rest of the day off. I never received counselling. I ended up having a pretty nasty breakdown and tried to kill myself and had to leave.
I'm doing great now though, just finished a microelectronic engineering degree. But this still haunts me. Whenever a friend has a crisis I panic thinking they'll do something like this. But it's gets better with time."
"Call came in and was flagged as a frequent caller on the end of a very rural county. The dude was just screaming. We couldn't make out anything he was saying, but we had his address and sent every available unit we had. After a while, the screaming started to die down and his breathing got very labored. He wouldn't talk to us, but he just kept muttering. After a few minutes we realized he was praying.
A few minutes later, the deputy arrived on scene. Heard him check in on scene and also heard him on the line. First noise I heard was him vomiting. Turned out the dude had been working on his car and the lift collapsed. The guy wasn't under the car but was between it and a tree when the car started rolling. He was impaled on a branch and pinned between the tree and car.
Dude lived. He's a quadriplegic but he's alive. First legit 911 call he ever made and everyone took their sweet time getting there because it was usually nonsense."
"Not a dispatcher myself, but the worst call I've heard of involved two friends of mine. James was a cop that had been a 911 dispatcher before he got his badge. Al was my former roommate. After I moved out of state, he moved in with James.
At the time of this story, James was recovering from an injury and took a shift at dispatch because they were short-staffed. He got a call that very matter of factly said, 'I am going to shoot myself, please send someone to [address] to collect my body.'
He's a little freaked because that's his address. It was Al. He tried to talk him out of it and was still on the phone when Al pulled the trigger. It messed him up for a while."
"My brother used to do dispatch. He told me about three stories that messed him up.
The first was a call from a man in a rural area whose wife had a heart attack. He said all you could hear while the man performed CPR was him sobbing 'please don't leave me, you can't leave me yet.' She died.
The next one was a mother who walked in on her son who was in process of committing suicide by hanging. He was still alive and kicking and the mom froze. My brother desperately tried to get her to cut him down or put a chair under him or something while police and medical responded, but she didn't. He died.
The last one was a call from a 4-year-old who wanted help because her dad was beating her mom. On her birthday. She hid in a closet and called, and he tried to talk to her to figure out her name and address and stuff. Before he could get info to get anywhere, her dad found her. All he heard was yelling before the phone call ended.
He's had more that I'm sure were difficult, but these are the ones that gave him nightmares. I still think about them regularly."
"Took a call of domestic. Got officers en route. Kept the caller on the phone. I was asking questions about weapons in the house (yes), if he had any (no), and if they were on a cordless phone (no). I was trying to keep her talking until the officer got there. The officers arrive on scene, and the caller sends her daughter out first. The officer on portable was telling us what's going on. The caller disconnects to leave the house. Suddenly, the officer is screaming on the radio, 'shots fired, shots fired.'
The guy had a weapon tucked into his back pocket, as the woman went to leave he stepped behind her and shot her in the head. He even took a shot at the daughter (missed) and shot at the officer (missed, again) before jumping back in the house.
SWAT was called. Officers entered the residence, the guy had barricaded himself in the back bedroom and was laying on the bed, waiting. Two officers were hit as they entered. The officers survived, but the guy did not and neither did the woman he shot."
"I could only do the job for about six months. The first one was a 4-day-old baby that basically drowned when her parents tried force-feeding her gripe water as she cried. All our ambulances were out on other calls, so one officer drove to the hospital while another did CPR in the back seat, but she was already dead. That one was really rough. And I had nightmares about my own niece dying for months afterword.
Another time, a woman had stabbed her teenage son in a fight, and he was running through town to the hospital. Not sure how that one ended. On a lighter note, my two favorite calls on Valentine's Day were a man who had applied some novelty cream to his privates, and called us screaming from the bath tub about how badly it burned. Then right before my shift ended I got to listen to someone vomit over the phone."
"Not a dispatcher. I was 12 when my mother’s ex-husband’s mother was dying in our living room at 2 am. No one in the household spoke English except my sister and I. I was the eldest, so they woke me up and told me to help. I went downstairs, called 911 and told them something was wrong with the old lady. They asked me to check if she was breathing, so I walked over to her and was about to put my hand over her mouth when I saw the ants. Ants crawling were in and out of her nose and mouth as she was exhaling a loud growl. Kind of like how movies depict 'possessed' people. I must have screamed because the next thing the dispatcher told me was to go outside and wait for paramedics to arrive. She asked me if I had a sweater and shoes on, and then asked me if it was too cold, then asked me if there were any other kids in the house. I told her my sister was upstairs sleeping, she told me to let her keep sleeping and told me she wondered what she was dreaming.
I will never forget what I saw but I don’t know how bad it got because of that dispatcher. She kept my mind off of it and just had a conversation with me until help arrived. Once they arrived, she told me I was brave and incredibly smart for helping out.
Turns out, she was having a heart attack and was probably about to die. My call saved her life for another four years."
"The scariest one would have to be one of the very first calls I took while I was training.
A young man rang up and it was evident from his voice that he was in shock. His exact words were, 'I’ve just hit a motorcyclist who was coming around a blind bend on the wrong side of the road. I think I’ve killed him.'
From dealing with a few noise complaints to a car accident with a possible fatality was a massive switch, and this was only my second shift taking calls in training.
The motorcyclist did not survive that accident.
Second scariest would be when someone was working down a well and was overcome by generator fumes. His wife tried to rescue him, but she fell off the ladder, injured herself as a result and was unable to help her husband. So there’s one possibly dead male in the well and his wife is in danger of dying as well. And all of this is in a remote location that I am completely unfamiliar with.
We didn’t save the male. We did, however, manage to save his wife."
"A dispatcher received a call from a woman whispering down her phone stating that there were intruders in her house. She was hiding down the side of her bed. They were downstairs and she was upstairs in her bedroom. She kept quiet for 10 minutes keeping the call handler updated throughout through whispering. She then told the handler the men were coming up the stairs. Next thing the handler hears is the woman saying 'please don't hurt me.'
The handler hears a noise that sounds like a scuffle and voices but can't quite hear what they are saying, then it suddenly goes completely silent. Except there's this noise that sounds like the wind blowing through an object, followed by a quiet gurgling noise. Turns out the 'wind noise' was the sound of the poor woman trying to breath through her lacerated windpipe and the gurgling was the blood forming bubbles as the air pumped up from her lungs pushing it out through the wound in her neck. The intruders had decided to slit her throat upon finding her and then continue to rob the house.
That story left me with a bad feeling for the rest of the day."
"I work in domestic abuse and had a call for a woman looking for a refuge.
During the call I only had her first name; no idea where she lived or what her full name was. All of a sudden I heard a noise, I asked the woman what that was, and she said, 'Oh, that’s just him standing by the patio doors with a chainsaw, looking at me.' I asked for her address, so I could call the police she refused she then shouted at him and the phone went dead.
To this day I still have no idea what happened, I rang my manager who told me there was nothing I could do. It was the worst call I’ve ever had."
"My kid sister got a call last year from her best friend when he came home from school and found his dad unconscious and bleeding out in the tub. I'm incredibly proud of her because she walked him through putting pressure on the wounds and keeping his dad warm while she was also on another phone to the paramedics.
Then when the paramedics arrived she told her friend to make sure the back door was unlocked, and she went over and cleaned up the blood so the kid and his mum didn't have to deal with it."
"A mother fell asleep with sliding glass door open, and a 1-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl fell into the pool and drowned. The mother never spoke into the phone except to give the address. The rest of the call was her crying and yelling the kids, over and over. I didn't know what was happening until after officers got on scene, but after hearing her say 'kids' I upgraded the EMS to send an additional unit as well.
Other than that, a completely normal phone call with a verbal dispute with a couple. The female was upset with the male, so she walked outside to call. Totally calm, she's answering my questions. Clearly she's been through the ringer before. Then BAM, and the loudest bloodcurdling scream that went on and on for what felt like minutes. The male stepped outside and started shooting at her, in broad daylight. She survived, luckily she wasn't hit."
"A few years ago my mum was working as a dispatcher for police. She received a call from a young woman who had arrived home from work and said the house felt like someone had been in there. She was convinced it was her husband as she had a restraining order against him. She said he'd broken in before and moved stuff, but this time felt different, and that she was scared. My mom logged it and said police were about 20 minutes away, but said she'd stay on the line to take more details about past events. She thought it was just a break in, or that the woman was paranoid.
Then the woman walked through the house to see if anything was missing. Something caught her eye in the hallway, and she approached to realize there were hand and footprints up the hallway walls going to the ceiling access. She told my mom, then got a chair. My mom begged her to get out of the house, and upgraded the priority. The woman put the phone down, stood on the chair and began to lift the attic door. It rose a little bit as per normal, then slammed down by the weight of someone standing on it. The woman began screaming. Her husband beat her viciously before the cops arrived. When they searched it, there was a whole room set up and it looked like he'd been living up there for days.
I'm now wary of manhole covers in my own house."
"Not really scary, but creepy. I got a 911 open line from a landline and when that happens our computer automatically populates the address, phone number, and the homeowner's name. Our policy is to send police for any 911 hangups or open lines from landlines since we have the address. So the deputy gets there, and the house is completely vacant and has been for a long time. I remember the open line being just silence, so nothing really weird there. The weird thing is, the deputy said has been there before for suspicious calls from neighbors saying they heard/saw things in the house. The deputy told me he believes it's haunted and that's possibly the reason for the 911 open line, but who knows."