Emergency operators have such an emotionally taxing job. They've got to act fast to comb out details from distressing people and transfer the information efficiently. Usually, they don't hear the caller's outcome. These operators share the weirdest and the vaguest calls they've ever received and how they responded.
All content has been edited for clarity.
"I work in bank security but receive 'alert line' calls from bank staff which is essentially the same as 911 operators would receive.
I had a call at midnight and it was this guy who started off by saying, 'Is this a secure line? I think they’re listening.'
'Uh yes sir, this line is secure.'
'Ok I just can’t be too careful, listen, I think they’re onto me, weird things are happening at work, I’ll get weird pop ups on my computer, on ALL OF THE COMPUTERS, I don’t know what to do I-'
'Ok sir just take a breath, and talk me through what’s going on.'
'Strange things, I don’t know, I’m not sure, too many coincidences they don’t make sense, I think my bosses are planning something, but I won’t contact the police.'
'Why won’t you contact the police?'
'I think they’re involved, and they won’t listen to me anyway, something's happening but I don’t know what it is yet.'
Then I heard in the background, 'What the heck are you doing down here, come back to bed, give me the phone.'
He argued for a second and gave over the phone.
'Hi sorry about this I’m Frank's wife, I don’t know what he’s been telling you but he’s just very stressed at the moment, don’t worry about anything he’s said, he told me he was going to get water and I found him downstairs calling you guys, I’ll make sure he’s ok, thanks bye.'
'Uhhhhhhhh ok, take care of him, bye.'
It was very surreal."
"I manned a Search and Rescue Radio in Alaska. Late one evening in a winter blizzard, I got the call: 'Coast Guard we are going over.'
That's it. I never heard from the ship again. I did however find some other helpful souls and background info. After being in the water almost 6 hours in 34F degree water, we picked them up. All four lived. One of my most intense nights ever."
"One call I got was some rambling followed by a clear, 'There's a bomb on the train,' followed by a 'click.'
It's the middle of the night when it's supposed to be quiet, and I was only working there for about a month at that point (as a railway police dispatcher). Definitely took me from feeling groggy to fully panicked in half a second. I pulled out the emergency procedure guideline for bombs, got started on all steps to start shutting down the entire division as a precaution and started pulling the call details. Told my one colleague about the call so he could take over the other inbound calls.
I started to pick up the phone to call up other departments and the inbound phone rings again. My colleague (who was much older and experienced) told me, 'Hold up - let me take this call.'
A few seconds pass and he screams out, 'IS THIS JEREMY??!' He waits a few seconds and slams the phone down.
'Oh yeah, that's Jeremy. He's actually a frequent caller who's institutionalized. Sometimes he gets away and runs off to the nurses' station and calls us; happens every now and then. Cross reference the phone number and log the call under Jeremy.'"
"I'm no longer a dispatcher, but I was for 15 years. I answered a 911 call from a cell phone that only indicated a sector/ direction the call was coming from and the tower that the call was bouncing off of - so basically no valid location information. Initially it sounded like a butt dial situation, but I stayed on the line a little longer trying to refresh the call for better location information.
As I was listening it sounded like a loud TV and some muffled noises in the background, so I stayed on longer then I would have. I was finally able to narrow the location down to about 3 football fields and searched inhouse records for the phone number. At this point there was still no communication except in the background... then I heard what was 1 single clear call for help.
I couldn't tell if it was the TV or a person though. I already entered a vague call to check the area and kept updating officers with further info.
Eventually we narrowed it down to 1 road that had 1 house surrounded by businesses so officers went to the house. Found that there was a teenage boy and a little brother or sister that were held tied up by parents. I tried to search for the news report but can't recall enough details. Thankfully I didn't give up one the call too soon, and the children were rescued."
"I was a police dispatcher and 911 operator for over five years. This started as an extremely vague call and turned into easily the funniest thing I can remember from those five years.
I've added some near-verbatim quotes from the caller. This call was so wacky I wrote about it right after it happened, and I had the file still sitting in my Google Drive. Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. I'm about to take y'all for a ride.
I worked in a very small department in rural Texas. There were a few suburb areas of our city, but mostly rural. The city encompassed over 23 square miles, but only 10,000 residents at most, and a department with less than 30 employees total. I was on duty as the only dispatcher, working with two officers for the whole night. So it's just me, and my two officers.
The phone rings, and here's what I hear.
'I’m in a white trailer house. And I’m the only one still up out here. And I’ve been hearin’ this stuff all night long for the last two nights. And it’s been gettin’ louder. And I’m sick of it.'
I asked the caller his address, which he gave me. I tried to clarify if it was the east or west of the street he said, and this was his reply.
'See, I just moved here, and I don’t know. I’m the only one up at this time a night. And I’m the only one out here.'
I asked him what the noise was and if he could describe it.
'Well, it sounds like something is trying to take my window off, and it’s been getting louder like something is trying to come into my house.'
This was a BIG trigger to up the response. I let my officers know this detail, because if someone is actively trying to come into his house it's a very urgent situation. The next question was how long ago he last heard this noise. If it was seconds ago, that's very different than having heard it an hour ago.
'Well, I’ve been hearing it tonight, and last night, and it’s getting louder.'
I tried for clarity, asking when he last heard it. I asked if it was about five minutes ago or half an hour ago. He replied 'yeah' to this definitely not 'yes or no' question. After one more push, he said it was about five minutes ago.
Keep in mind, during this whole process, I've already got officers on the way. They're getting updates on what he's telling me and are probably as confused as I am, but they know that not telling them more means I'm still trying to figure it out myself.
The caller continued to talk, finally giving a very important clue.
'And they put me all the way out here. And I’m with MHMRA-'
MHMRA, or the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority, worked with patients struggling with mental illness or disability. It then dawned on me the struggles he was dealing with, and the potential illness that could be contributing to this.
That's when he hit me with a question I literally never thought I'd be asked over a 911 call. It hit me like a wall. He first says, 'Sir, can I ask you a question?'
Of course, I said yes. Then he asked me.
'I want to know, is there such thing as zombies?'
That was absolutely what he asked me. I can still hear it in my head. His shaky voice and genuine concern. He didn't know the answer.
In a moment of crisis, I'm trying to keep him as calm as possible until my officers get there, but I don't want to challenge his worldview. I don't want to say 'that's CRAZY' and him be escalated when they arrive. So, I got practical. This was my response.
'Well, I don’t think there is. I mean, I’m not an expert on such things, but I’ve certainly not seen any zombies… in my own experience.'
He literally said, 'Oh, that's such a relief.'
The more I talked to him, the more this all made sense. It was also sad. This man was clearly suffering from some form of mental illness, possibly schizophrenia.
After some discussion, mostly killing time until my officers arrived. The department was small, but they were coming from across town, and I wanted to keep him as calm as possible until they got there.
He then moves back to our previous discussion and asks another question I never thought I'd have to answer.
'How do you think zombies would go about breaking into your house?'
I had to answer, so I just went for it.
'Well, I'm not sure, but I don't think they'd be very good at pulling off a window or breaking in like that. I suppose they'd just try and barge their way in, or something, but I'm not an expert. I just wouldn't think they're the most dexterous of beings.'
Fortunately, my officers arrived right about this point. I asked him to go answer the door and talk to them. From talking to my officers later, the circumstances got a lot more clear.
This man was suffering from mental illness, likely including symptoms like hallucinations. He was from downtown Houston area, but through MHMRA had gotten a chance to stay in this trailer out in the country. It being a rural area, there are sounds of wildlife. These aren't sounds he's accustomed to.
This man had a few friends over earlier in the night, and they'd started talking about zombies, Bigfoot, and all sorts of things in that realm. They let this man, supposedly their friend, buy into believing these things were real.
Then, knowing about his issues and that he wasn't on his meds, they left. And he was left at home for his mind to torture him. The officers were able to bring him back down to reality, one even blankly asking him, 'Do you really think Bigfoot is real?' He quickly backed down with an, 'I guess not.'
They urged him to take his meds as they were prescribed and checked around the house to make him feel safe. Fortunately, it was a happy ending for a crazy situation.
That started as the most confusing a vague call I've had, and turned into a story I'll truly never forget."
"I am a 911 operator at a 40 officer department. One time I took a 911 call, the female caller said, 'Get police over...' click.
I attempted call back, no answer, went straight to voicemail. Looked up history with the phone number in our report system. A neighboring city had contact with someone using that number just 2 months prior. The neighboring city does a check at the home and finds a vehicle that had gotten away from a police pursuit from our city earlier in the night.
We go to the location and recover the vehicle, while the local department takes the person identified as the driver, into custody on their local charges.
Weird that it all stemmed from a less than 3 second phone call."
"I once had a woman on the line who was locked in a bedroom after getting into a physical fight with her boyfriend, but she had no idea where she was and she was incredibly difficult to understand.
I asked her if she was in a home or apartment - she said apartment. I told her to look out the window and tell me what she saw. She said, 'A red car and a blue car.' Not much help there.
So, I asked her how many stories the apartment complex had and she said 3. This was obviously not a lot to go on, so I finally asked what the last thing she remembers seeing before they pulled into the apartment complex, and she said a Target. I knew there was a Target just outside our jurisdiction and a couple of 3 story apartments near there but one in particular that we got called out to regularly, so I dispatched police.
Meanwhile the boyfriend was beating down the door, literally, and was about to get in so I knew it was urgent that we find her immediately. I hoped with all my heart that I sent police to the right place.
When my officers pulled on scene, they reported seeing a red and a blue car so I knew we were close but we still didn’t know which apartment. The boyfriend was about to burst in the room so she hid under the bed, and when he finally broke down the door, I told her to run toward the front door and to scream as loud as she could (which we’re not really supposed to do because if they get hurt after you give them an order, it can leave the PD liable). But she was frozen and needed help and we needed to find her or at least, maybe someone would hear her scream and call us with an address.
He came into the room, she slid out from under the bed and ran to the front door screaming, burst outside and my officers were right there. Turned out the reason she was so difficult to understand was because her boyfriend had knocked out her teeth."
"My step dad's fire station once got a call asking whether you should throw salt or sugar on a fire to put it out--I'm not sure if the call was transferred or they'd called the station directly. He asked why and they responded that her and her husband disagreed on it. He asked if they had a fire, and they said well, yes, but they were just wondering which to use. He asked where, and they said, 'Oh, we're just behind the station to the East.' He looked over and could see flames rolling out of their kitchen window."
"My parents were once a vague call for a 911 operator, on my phone. I was driving them home from a wedding because they were way too inebriated to drive. At one point my boyfriend texted me so I handed my dad my phone to text him back. Somehow he managed to hit the 'Emergency Services' button, then 'Yes.' So they pick up, and I hear dad go, 'Uh oh!' Then he hangs up.
So he gives the phone to my mom, and emergency services called back. I hear her say very loudly, 'Hello? No, I'm fine! Am I being what? Coerced? Nooooo.' At this point, I've pulled over and wrestled the phone from her, and then explain the situation. I felt so bad for the operator."
"My cousin had this lady who would call regularly and often make up stories, most likely due to loneliness, but they still had to send someone out every time. So one day when they got a call from her they figured it would be another one of those calls.
Cousin: '911, what's your emergency?'
Her: 'There's a lion in my living room.'
Cousin: 'There's a lion in your living room? What's it doing?'
Her: (She pauses to ask it what it was doing )'I don't know, just standing there. Can you send someone over?'
Turned out there actually was a lion cub in her living room that had escaped from a circus or something nearby."
"I'm a former volunteer EMT. We kept getting called one afternoon for 'stomach pain.' It took forever to get a volunteer crew together to respond to this call. It turned out to be a middle schooler with a bullet wound to the abdomen.
The kid that called 911 didn't want to tell the dispatcher that he accidentally shot his friend with his dad's unsecured forty-five.
The kid that was shot did survive but a lot of us first responders felt absolutely horrible for not responding quicker. Had the information given to the dispatcher been complete or had she been able to elicit more information from the kid, the response would have been so much faster than a response for vague 'stomach pain.' We were never able to get any follow up on the situation because it involved minors and was quite possibly a crime."
"I'm a 911 dispatcher in VA. A passerby called about a man sitting on a curb looking lonely. No description of the male and no legit location.
Caller: 'I’m sitting at an intersection here in town and I saw this guy...'
Me: 'Okay sir, did the man appear to be in distress or suspicious in any way?'
Caller: 'No I don’t think so, but he seemed really lonely.'
Me: 'Uhhh... do you want me to send a unit to check his welfare?'
Caller: 'Yes please. I mean it may be nothing or he may be thinking about running into traffic and I think someone should talk to him.'
Me: 'Do you remember where you saw him?'
Caller: 'No, on a curb near my family member’s house.'
Me: 'Hmmm okay, what’s that address?'
Caller gives the address.
Me: 'Any idea where in relation to the house?'
Caller: 'No, all the streets here look the same. I’m from out of town.'
Me: 'Do you have a description of the male? Is he white, black, or hispanic? What he is wearing?'
Caller: 'No, I didn’t look at him really, I just drove by and he looked lonely...'
Me: bashes head against console."
"I'm a 911 operator, but a coworker took the call. It went something like this:
'911, where is your emergency?'
'(Caller provides address)' and then BANG.
The guy shot himself in the head behind the barn and wanted first responders to find him before his family did. She said she stayed on the line and listened to him gurgle and struggle to breathe for a few minutes until EMS arrived."
"I heard of a case where a domestic violence victim called emergency and it went somewhat like this:
'911 what's your emergency?'
'Hi I'd like to order pizza.'
'You realize you've called 911?'
'Yes, can I get a Super Supreme.'
The 911 operator realizes what's going on
'Are you under duress and unable to speak but you need police help?'
'Yes that's right. My address is X. How long until the pizza arrives?'
The pizza didn't show but cops did, and the abusive boyfriend was separated from his knife."
"I'm in the Army and work as a dispatcher on post.
Me: 'What is your emergency?'
There was silence but then sounds of breathing on the phone.
Male: 'I need you to send Special Forces to my house because my mom took something and isn't acting herself.'
Me: 'Sir, what is your address and number?' (we actually have a computer that tells us but we double check incase of faulty system)
Male: 'I can't give you that information. Special Forces is coming for us.'
Me: 'Sir, tell me about your mother, in what way is she not “acting herself”?'
Male: 'You already know. You can see it on your computers can't you? Where is my mom?'
Mind you, the male sounds to be in adulthood and with very slow, slurred speech.
Me: 'Sir, you just said she wasn't acting herself, so how do you even know that but ask me where she is?'
Male: 'Who? Special Forces already know.'
He hangs up.
I tried to call back but got no response. The caller wasn't even on post. Since it wasn't even close to our base, we had to pin point the location and inform the department that controlled his specific area. We aren't told what happens in the end."
"Some girl calls saying her car was stolen. I'm asking questions. I ask which direction she last saw it headed. She says, 'We're passing Northern Blvd now.'
I ask if she's in the car and she says yes. Stolen car call is now a kidnapping call. I'm asking her more questions, police are scrambling. I then her hear say, 'Slow down babe you're scaring me.'
Kidnapping call has now de-escalated to an angry girlfriend call. Police still find them and make sure everything's ok."
"My mom was a dispatcher for 20+ years. The eeriest call she ever told me about was one that started off with no voice, only breathing. She kept asking yes or no questions, working out a system to guess what was going on. Eventually he could talk a little bit and said the person who hurt him was still there, so the officers went in, weapons drawn. He'd said the person was there but hadn't specified that they were dead.
Turns out the guy couldn't talk because his throat was sliced open, which he had done to himself. He did it to make it look like his wife, whom he had just murdered, had attacked him first."