A Day in the Life of a 911 Dispatcher : 3

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 at 12:03 am

Photograph of Super Bowl after-party, Shadyside.

5:10 – Like clockwork, rush hour begets a string of accidents – a collision in front of Ruby Tuesday’s, an abandoned car parked in the middle of the street. Schools have let out and sports practices are ending, and minors are now flooding the streets in the city’s 120 neighborhoods. Some kids are threatening to fight in Brentwood Park, and at least 30 minors are egging them on. A woman’s pug is loose. An 80-year-old woman, living in a nursing home, has been unconscious for 20 minutes, and her blood pressure is rapidly dropping. An 11-year-old called 911 by accident, panicked and hung up. Williams has to call back. An adult has to confirm that the call was an accident, that all is well, or else she’ll have to send an officer to the scene. Even a bumped speed-dial has to be treated with diehard seriousness.

6:43 – Sometime between a noise complaint (loud music knocking pictures off a neighbor’s walls) and a possible heroin overdose (reported from a third party by text message), Williams receives a quizzical call from a 954 area code, which services Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The call vanishes before she can answer it, and she only raises an eyebrow, wondering how the number reached here. But stranger things have happened. For the past decade, smaller call centers have closed down, consolidating into this single, enormous room, where every operation in Allegheny county is orchestrated. On September 11, a dispatcher named Randy Tedesco received a call from a woman in Munhall. The woman’s brother was a U.S. marine stationed in New York. He had located two survivors buried in the wreckage of the Twin Towers, but the deadlocked cell-phone traffic meant that he couldn’t make contact with the local 911 dispatchers. Tedesco faxed the marine’s information to the New York dispatchers, and the two men were saved. According to colleagues, Tedesco is very modest about the event. On such an overwhelming day, the call easily could have been dropped, and those two men might not have survived, and the film World Trade Center would not have found its inspiration. As 911 Chief Bob Full succinctly put it: “Anything’s possible.”

7:01 – After a few minutes of silence, Williams sighs. “Yeah,” she says. “It’s dead tonight. You should’ve been here yesterday…” And she tells the story of a young man who went biking and didn’t return by his curfew. A common occurrence, except that the young man had autism, a disability marked by rigid schedules. Williams and her colleagues dispatched police officers, dogs, and even two helicopters. When they found the boy, he was asleep on the bike trail. His chain had broken, he’d suffered a mild panic attack, and he’d passed out. Now that was a night.


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