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911, Do You Have An Emergency? April 1, 2005

Two quick things:

LOVE the new Vogue Knitting. I adore three or four things in it, and that's three or four more than the last one. Also, fab article by our Leslie, and my Kira (of wedding lore) is quoted!

Also: Have you heard the tape yet? The 911 call from the woman having a problem with her cheeseburger? I've been sent it from several sources, and while it's very funny, it's also kinda bittersweet. People make calls like this all the time. The dispatcher let her talk way too long, I thought. But she probably had her mute-button clicked on in the beginning, and she was probably telling her stunned coworkers what the caller was saying while she figured out what she would say back. (We do that all the time. We say, "uh-huh," click to mute and laugh our heads off (uh-huh) or swear or give our coffee order to the officer making the run for us (okay), while still listening to the caller in our headset (uh-huh). Multitask it, baby.)

And working in a small, mostly white, affluent city brings this call home to me. I've taken calls from people on 911 who want me to call them a cab. Or they want me to tell their neighbor to move their car from in front of their house because the car's ugly. Or they want a cop to tell their husband to stop sleeping around. It's always funny when people call us to have us make their kids behave, change clothes, go to school.
"Can't you just send an officer to scare him?"
"No,  we try very hard not to scare children, ma'am."

Or I get this one at least once a week,
"There's a man walking around outside who doesn't belong in my neighborhood. You need to move him along."
"How do you know he doesn't belong, sir?"
"He's black."
Yep, just like that, in the freaking Bay Area. My jaw drops every single time, and it's all I can do to not blow my stack (but I get that insta-burn of rage in the top of my head, which I rarely feel any other time).

People just call for dumb things. All the time. I once got a complaint about a man coughing too loudly (turns out he had bronchitis. How dare he?). Once a woman called five or six times in a row, absolutely FURIOUS that we would do nothing about the frogs who were croaking too loudly in her neighbor's back yard. I could not make this shit up.

Anywho. A brief lesson: 911 is not a room in the sky filled with people who answer your phone call. We don't all work together. If you dial 911, you'll talk to a person sitting in a room in your own city (or if unincorporated, your county).

When to dial 911: Call 911 for life or death emergencies, for medical problems, or when property is being threatened or attacked at that very moment. For example, if your house has been burglarized during the day while you were away, that's not an emergency (look up the seven digit number for your local police department), but if you see someone actively breaking into a home, dial 911.

Check with your state, as things are changing rapidly, but try not to dial 911 on your cell phone (unless you see an emergency on the freeway): You'll most likely get a highway patrol dispatcher, who will have to figure out where you are and then transfer you to the right city's dispatch center. In Northern California, you can easily be on hold with highway patrol for more than five minutes, and then they still have to send you to the right agency, where you might be put on hold again. Program into your cellphone the seven digit phone numbers for every single city you're routinely in, both police and fire dispatch, if they're not combined (most are separate where I live). Best thing to do in any emergency: use a landline if it's safe to do so -- it's answered immediately, and you don't have to know where you are -- the address will show up automatically on the dispatcher's screen, which is good, because you'll be too freaked out to remember the address of the house you've lived in since you were five.

Shoot. I meant to just quickly share that link, and then I got all preachy, huh? Comes down to this: Be safe, know where you are, have a great time, and knit a lot. (And for my sake, if you get a nice dispatcher, write her chief a note -- in five years, I've only seen this happen once here. For the cops it happens all the time, but people forget the helpful voice who figured out what to do with your problem pretty durn quickly. It would be a really big deal for her/him, this I know.)

And this: Happy weekend, all!


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LOVE the how to call 911 thing. I just dyed some red and yellow yarn and I need to run it by your co-worker to see if it passes or fails the MickeyD test.Although, i guess the mighty three year old would be thrilled to look like he worked at McD

I heard that phone call tape the other day. I can't IMAGINE what kinds of crap y'all have to put up with sometimes!

Thanks for the reminder about when to call 911. It's always good to put that info back in front of people.

I LOVE Rachael! As my dear sister has a fondness of saying "People suck", though her client pool is generally incarcerated. My pool is generally just undercaffeinnated which is easier to remedy.

Maybe you should send out a "goon squad" to all the stupid callers and they could give them a really hard open handed slap.

P.s. Peets should be opening up in El Cerrito in the plaza where Long's and T. Joe's is, by this summer. Heaven.

I just want to say that even *before* I knew ya, I used 911 correctly. Gunshot outside my apartment? That would be 911. Motorcycle crash outside my office? 911. Police choppers circling endlessly over my house late at night? Non-emergency police. (And it turned out I had semi-relevant information.)

(Okay, you can pat me on the head for good citizenship now.)

Also, how about that "trend report" in the VK?

Thank you for the information! I always wondered how 911 worked from the cell phone. Since that's the only phone I have, and I'm frequently out of my home area code... Time to look up those seven-digit numbers!

Feel free to be as preachy as you want! I love learning new stuff!

Speechless after hearing that call. Speechless.

I think "Ma'am, we're not going to go down there and enforce your western bacon cheeseburger." might be my new favorite phrase.

Oh my.

My son was about 3 at the time and called 911 to tell the dispatch woman that he was a lucky boy as I had just made him CHOCOLATE chip cookies. Luckily she thought it was funny. ooops.

I'm the opposite...even if I were in an emergency, I debate on calling 911 because I'm just not sure that my emergency is really enough of an emergency. If no one is gushing blood or lost consciousness, I'm just not sure I need to dial 911.

Goofy calls like that are part of the reason NYC developed the 311 system - you dial 311 for everything that's not an emergency (noise complaints & subway idiocy are my two personal favorites.) You get shuttled through the city agency voicemail system until they find the appropriate place for you to complain, or until you get so irritated you finally hang up. I like that there's a single, easy number to call for those petty annoyances :-)

I have called 911 twice in my life.

The first time I was 10 years old and a friend and I started a fire while trying to make candles with the Candle Making Kit we found in our storage closet. The first step was to melt several wax bars, which we did in a pan on the stove. And no, my mother wasn't home. Pretty soon the pan was on fire and wax was bubbling and shooting all over the kitchen. My friend panicked and called 911. She proceeded to tell them there was a fire, at which point I ripped the phone from her hand and yelled, "Don't send a fire truck, my mom will kill me!" My much calmer friend took the phone back from me just in time to hear the dispatcher relate my statement to the other dispatchers and they all promptly lost their heads laughing. By the time we got back to the kitchen, the fire was out, as the dispatcher predicted it would be and all was fine. At least until mom got home and saw the kitchen.

The second time was because a van started on fire in the parking lot of my apartment complex. Just kind of spontaneously started smoking and then *poof* big fire.

Listening to your stories and others I have heard, I can't believe what some people believe constitutes a 911-worthy emergency...

First: ditto what Abigail said.

Second: while I'm reading your excellent 911 tutorial, my daughter SCREAMS "Help! Help!" I jump up and run to her. What's her emergency? She dropped her Go fish cards and didn't want to get up from the chair to retrieve them. So she got the Mom 911/ What Constitutes a Mom Emergency Lecture. Borrowed liberally from you, btw.

I work in an old folk's home with a demetia unit. I don't even know how many times aids have gone into resident's rooms to find them on the phone with 911, saying they've been kidnapped, there's a fire, there are explosions going off, etc. The dispatchers have always been really nice about it, though one did ask why the resident had his own phone if we was so demented (said it very politely, but seriously the man had called about three times in a month). Thing is, they go into other people's rooms and use their phones, sometimes dragging the other resident into their reality!

so if i'm on the highway and some guy is driving like a fuck asshole it's alright to call 911? i should probably get the state cops number, shouldn't i.

Very well said.

Let's get back to knitting...

Hey Rach - I'm surprised at how long the dispatcher stayed on the phone with the cheeseburger lady. I would have hung up on her by the second uh-huh!
Sorry for the rant in your comments on your McD's post - sometimes I just can't help myself. As they say in Las Vegas, "It's not the heat, it's the stupidity!"

Thanks for the 911 how-to. I have never had to call 911 in my life, but this is just the sort of thing that will get stuck in my head forever. Unfortunately, things I need to know more frequently (like how to kitchener the toe of a sock) slip out of my memory like a greased pig.

I loved your stories. They reminded me of my first job--call girl at Domino's Pizza when I was 16. The drivers called us that, not the managers. We used to get calls from drunk people asking for weird shit on their pizzas like psychedelic mushrooms and to have them delivered by catapult. And oh yeah, can you stop by the liquor store on the way over here? Umm, sir, you'll have to take that up with the driver, and you'd better tip him well. Something about a telephone makes people feel all nervy. Kind of like a prehistoric internet. Anyway, thanks for serving the public, even if you don't serve pizzas!! ;-)

my funniest 9-1-1 call (that i took after only about 4 months on the job) was an obscene phone call.
"9-1-1, where is your emergency?"
"I want to eat your p---y." (sounds like drunk white redneck male)
"Sir, are you aware you've called 9-1-1 and I have your name and phone number right in front of me?"
(pause) "Does that turn you on?"
"Nooo. But it might turn on the deputy who's on his way to your house right now."
When the deputy arrived at the doublewide MH in the boonies, he was just shocked (shocked, i tell you) to find the trailer empty and dark. Seems the idiot caller had retained enough self-preservation to get the heck out before the deputy could get to his house.
Thanks for sharing the word about 9-1-1 use and abuse, Rach!

Lol.....I had to call the police yesterday....I think it was a 911 call but since I know the # to the police station, I just called there. It's so nice to spend a wonderful spring day outside to have it runined my a man running his wife off the road, beating her through the window, all in front of HIS children, and mine that were playing outside!

Good thing we are only 1/4 mile from the police station.....that officer was there in RECORD time!

Hey Rachy Pooh! Glad to see you are informing the public... I did the same on my blog! Told them to come read your page since you said it so lovely! You forgot to mention how many idiots yell at us "just hurry up and get here" when we're trying so very hard to rip the information out of them because they don't have enough sense to listen quietly and answer our questions! I can't believe people actually think we (the call takers) hang up the phone, jump in our cars and rush to their house to help them with whatever crises it is they seem to be having at that particular moment! At least we never have to worry about job security! :) You should down load the "Police Voicemail" one that went around a little while back, I'll email it to you! See you soon... Coley

I have called 911 from the highway while out of town (once for a car that was on fire), but I always have the mile marker number. Any time you report anything on a highway you need to have a mile marker number or exit number for whatever emergency personal you contact.

I certainly don't have any good-weird dispatch stories but I thought I'd pop in to say "hi" and drop an anecdote anyway...Nick (my husband, CHP officer) had a guy fight his speeding ticket (and get it dismissed) with this excuse: "I really had to go poop."

I guess the judge was in a good mood.

Or a sympathetic, gut-roiling mood, who knows.
This was up in Oakland, too. And Nick said that the next dude to come up (not one of his tickets) used the same excuse and had it dismissed as well.
Weirdness abounds in this world.

Our very own Rachel on the front page of the LA Times today! I am just reading along, in this article about home loans, and I go to the continuation, and lo and behold, there is Rachel with with her kitty staring right back at me! I couldn't believe it! Good thing they mentioned your yarn stash, because the article just wouldn't have been complete without it! :)

Very interesting advice about emergency numbers and mobile phones. My husband works for a mobile phone service carrier (he's actually involved in system architecture) and we talked about this a great deal after I read what you wrote. I never realized how complicated it was to deal with 911 calls from a cell phone.

Apparently the VOIP phones are even worse -- at least most mobile phones are now required to have GPS which allows their current location to be transmited to the emergency dispatcher from the mobile carrier if the emergency services provider in the area is compliant (apparently this is a problem, esp. in areas with lower population level). The VOIP phones only transmit the information the customer provides and can be moved almost anywhere in the world and plugged in. No GPS. And what information is transmited to the 911 dispatcher can vary depending on who you get your service from. Basically, you just can't count on them in an emergency. Have you dealt with anyone calling on one of these types of devices?

whoa, I totally did not know that about 911. I just got a cell phone, we have no land line in our new house, and well, i'm a bit freaked out for reasons explained on the blog. I will have to look this info up and program it into my cell immediately. thanks!!

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


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