What Was Your Worst Call?


by an Anonymous Dispatcher

At one time or another, anyone who has worked in Emergency Services for more than a few months will get asked, what was your worst call?  This is a question we hate after being asked the first time.  How do you quantify and qualify “the worst?” Does “the worst” have specific requirements for people asking the question? My “worst” and your “worst” could have two totally different definitions. Should it be based on number of people injured or killed ? How about extent of injuries? Or what about what could possibly motivate people to do some of the heinous things they do?

Time and time again dispatchers get dismissed because they don’t respond to the scene and see the wreckage of the calls they handle. They are being told that what we hear “isn’t that bad”…we should be able to handle any and everything without it impacting us.  I would love to find a human being that can listen to what we hear and not be impacted. A mother discovering their baby dead due to no fault of her own. Hearing the sound a parent makes when the one thing they love more than themselves is gone and there is nothing they can do.

Attempting to talk someone out of committing suicide, knowing logically that if their mind is made up there is nothing you can do. But you feel as if you hold their lives in your hand, say the wrong thing and you failed them and they are gone.

Taking a call from a child hiding under a bed because their parents are fighting and their daddy hit mommy and she’s now on the floor and won’t get up. Unless you have taken a call from a scared, vulnerable, innocent child who is scared for their life, scared for the life of a parent or sibling because of the actions of another family member, trying to convince them they did the right thing even though mommy or daddy will go to jail, you can’t begin to understand what it feels like to listen to that child lose their belief that the world is good and safe.

Or there is that middle of the night phone call from a female caller who has just experienced the worst physical, mental, and emotional violation possible and you have to ask her to take you through it step by step in an attempt to get a suspect description so responding units can be on the lookout for one of society’s worst members. A rape victim is fragile, scared, yet brave, but doesn’t know it yet.

The level of skill needed to take these calls is much more than what a receptionist does. If we handle a call wrong someone could die, a child can grow up thinking it’s their fault a parent when to jail, or a rape victim can shut down completely if the dispatcher lacks compassion, empathy, and professionalism.

To say that we are “just dispatchers” denies us of everything we truly are. We are highly skilled individuals with a heart of gold doing a job that is thankless, helping people in the worst moments of their lives while they wait for a field unit to respond. We are their lifeline, for some we are the last human being they will ever speak to as life slowly leaves them. We stay on the phone with them so they are not alone as they die, giving them the dignity and respect every human being should have.

We hear the worst of the worst over and over again, day in and day out. We may not see things, but our contact with those we serve is just as important as that of our field units. Without our skills, abilities, and professionalism the first link in the chain of emergency response would be broken leading to a failure of the system for those that need it most.

I am a dispatcher and my experiences matter, my skills are needed. Not everyone can do my job, nor should they. One day, your life, or that of a loved one, may depend on me and I will provide the exact definition of a “protective service employee.” #IAM911