A Day in the Life of a 911 Dispatcher : 4

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 at 12:04 am

Photograph of Super Bowl after-party, Shadyside.

8:29 – Williams borrows three Ibuprofen from a colleague. She has a headache. In such a dark room, with so many glowing screens, so much tension, headaches are common – plus watery eyes, leg-cramps, indigestion, all kinds of discomforts. Emotions can shift as a rapidly as the situations. No one worries about a stolen ATM card in Elizabeth Township, or the anonymous report of loud stereo in Carnegie, or even the woman who hit a deer on a country road and can’t give precise directions. But around 8 p.m., a man was shot in the head while driving his truck through Mt. Washington. He swerved and hit two kids with the grille of his pick-up. No matter how much the heart races, the dispatchers have to stay clear-headed. They may work up to 16 hours in a single shift, taking short breaks for cigarettes or sandwiches, but they must stay alert and organized. They work on holidays. They have turkey dinners on Thanksgiving. They have grinders on the Super Bowl. For the dispatchers, most of their waking lives will unfold in this dark room. And when they leave, they still stick together – barbequing together, bar-hopping together, trading messages on MySpace. They weather prank-calls and raging floods and all-nighters in the situation room. “We’re like a family,” Williams says. “As much as we yell at each other and make fun of each other.”

9:58 – Williams starts to compile her day’s work. “Everything we do, we have to log,” she explains. This helps police write reports. It provides evidence for court cases. They are succinctly coded, and the screen reads like a very brief crime novel: VANDAL, THEFT, SERVIC, TRESSP, DOMES, SUSP. Williams seems almost disappointed that the evening has been so light, but disasters have been averted. At 10:30, she will go home, assured that a cat was saved, a car was towed, a PFA was served to a stalking boyfriend. And tomorrow she’ll come back at 3 p.m., and start it all over again.


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