Life for an emergency dispatcher seems harrowing and stressful if you watch true crime shows, but the truth is, most 911 calls aren't the sorts of emergencies that make the news. And often people call 911 for things that wouldn't be considered an emergency by anyone's standards. Most of the time, people are far more alarmed about the situation in progress than they need to be.
However, a a recent reddit thread revealed, sometimes a call that initially doesn't seem very serious turns out to be quite the emergency. Here are 12 stories from dispatchers and first responders that were a much bigger deal than they seemed.
One dispatcher, ahelx, had two stories crazy enough to share, the first being a tale of a woman who was either in shock or dealing with age-related dementia, because her reaction to a very serious situation definitely didn't evoke urgency. The call originated from her family doctor, who was concerned when his patient reported to him that her husband had accidentally shot himself. The doc called emergency services saying he thought it was probably a minor injury but needed to report it since a firearm was involved.
Police called her and again got the impression the injury wasn't very severe. until they asked where her husband had been shot. Turns out he had shot himself in the face. When police arrived, they found him bleeding profusely. He did not survive. "I'll never forget her saying 'Silly insert name here what have you done to yourself' in a sweet, calm, caring old lady voice," the dispatcher added.
The second case involved a call they first thought was a mentally ill person calling about "her son 'leaking' in her living room and something knocking around her house, very odd." The dispatcher looked in the system and learned the woman's son had been murdered a week earlier, and his body was lying in state in the living room. However, "he had not been embalmed properly and was leaking black fluid on the floor."
As for the knocking? That was the mortician, who was "knocking at the door trying to be let in to fix the problem." I am guessing the woman's grief over losing her child was only compounded by this second trauma.
Though not a 911 dispatcher, one respondent who worked for U.S. Air Force Special Forces once took a call from a kid who was home alone and reported there was a monster in his closet. He thought the kid was a bit too old to believe monsters live in closets, so he investigated.
Turns out, it wasn't Sully from Monsters Inc, but "Holy f--k, there's a snake in the closet that's gotta be a at least 150 pounds." He responded as anyone would, tough military guy or no, by closing that door as fast as possible and leaving the house with that kid immediately. Always a good call when you encounter an unexpected snake that possibly outweighs you. He called animal control and the parents, who confirmed they definitely don't own a snake of any size, let alone one that could confidently consume a porterhouse steak in one swallow.
"All parties agree 'monster in closet' was accurate-enough description of event," he concludes. I concur.
A paramedic commented to share the story of a woman who called 911 saying she "hurt her knee," and since she was a bit of a serial caller "for all sorts of trivial, non-emergency complaints in the past," nobody expected it to be a very serious issue but the ambulance nevertheless went out to see what was the matter. Since she had been lectured before about not calling for non-emergencies, she skewed way in the other direction and downplayed her injury, which turned out to be quite serious. The paramedic found "her right leg was nearly twice the size of her left leg" and her kneecap was severely dislocated.
She had fallen off a ladder several feet off the ground the day before and thought she might have lost consciousness for a time. The EMTs let her know this was definitely the sort of call where emergency services is warranted immediately. Yikes.
Redditor agreeingstorm9 says they took a noise complaint that an officer responded to merely because it was a slow night. It turns out the person blaring loud music was a 14-year-old girl whose parents were out of town. And she had company: a 25-year-old man she met on the internet who had driven there "from a town 3 hours away" to "have sex with her all night long." The cop who responded found a total To Catch a Predator situation in progress. The man went to jail and the girl was taken to a children's home until her parents returned. It's a good thing that officer was having a slow night!
Someone who works in police records and chimed in to share a call she once overheard coming into police dispatch about an abandoned motorcycle. When the state patrol went out to investigate, they found a wrecked bike propped against a guard rail and didn't see anyone nearby. They figured the person who drove it had walked away with minor injuries and had the motorcycle towed. Wrong.
"Next day, a missing person report comes in and we figure out that the towed MC belongs to the missing guy," they wrote. When officers returned to the scene, the discovered a body about 50 yards away from where the bike was recovered, obscured by brush. How awful.
A dispatcher recounted a Life Alert call they received about a wheelchair-dependent woman who had got her chair stuck on a cupboard and couldn't get out of her kitchen. Since it was a busy night and the situation, though unfortunate, didn't sound urgent, the first responders attended to more urgent calls first before looking in on this disabled woman. "When our sgt made it in, she found that the caller was sitting in her chair at the sink and was washing dishes. The caller appeared to have dropped a knife and cut into her ankle." Unfortunately, she was not able to apply pressure to her wound due to her immobility and the bleeding was exacerbated by her prescribed blood thinners, which caused her to die from loss of blood.
Here's a case that proves why emergency dispatchers should treat calls seriously even when they seem too outlandish to be true. One wrote about a call that came in from a roadside help phone. The caller "started yelling about being kidnapped" and said someone was trying to kill them in the desert, then they hung up.
The dispatcher says "we all assumed it was a hoax from the initial call and disconnect," but thankfully they sent units out to check. They found a man hiding in the bushes, duct taped and tied up and tire tracks nearby where he escaped from them." He saw them driving back, which is why he ended the call abruptly to hide. Unfortunately, the kidnapers were never found.
Though Kookabob doesn't work as an emergency dispatcher or first responder, her story was too important not to share. She was with her uncle who is a cop, when he received a call from a woman who wanted to know why her daughter was being arrested. The woman explained her daughter called and said she had been pulled over at the garbage dump and police were searching her because they spotted a couple of empty beer boxes in the back of the truck she was driving. Her uncle, who was out on patrol, determined no officers were in the area of the dump — because the man who detained this young woman was only posing as a cop, Ted Bundy style. Thankfully, her uncle was able to stop a possible kidnapping, assault, or murder before it was too late.
People often call 911 and say nothing or hang up, but another dispatcher demonstrated why emergency responders always respond to those types of calls with their story. Their center received several calls within the span of an hour, "always radio silence on the other end." After five silent calls, they received a sixth and heard enough audio to obtain an address and to suspect the call was serious. It was indeed. The caller was a woman who was attempting to leave her boyfriend. He had bound, tortured, and raped her over the span of several hours.
This one is just chilling. A dispatcher coming to the end of a shift change received a hang-up call and followed the standard procedures, which is to call back. A woman answered and said her daughter was playing on the phone. Anyone who has been around little kids knows these things happen, but a car was sent out anyway. It's a good thing they did. The called was a 7-year-old girl who was trying to report to 911 that her mother had taken a large bite out of her own daughter's cheek. This sounds like something Gillian Flynn might have written.
This last one wasn't the dispatcher but the caller themselves who dialed 911 to report a deer on a very busy Toronto highway. They told the operator there was a doe on the road, and when the dispatcher repeated back, "a doe?" the caller couldn't help but make the obvious joke. "Yes, a doe, a deer, a feee-male deer," in a sing-song. Both of them laughed, and then "a truck swerved so as not to hit the deer and took out two lanes of traffic" right that moment.
"We stopped laughing," they concluded.