I wonder what kind of day it would have been if it didn’t start with reading about a five year-old who died in her sleep…if I didn’t have to wonder if it was just a biological failing of her body, given that she was on a feeding-tube and had serious medical issues to begin with…or if maybe the caretaker, parent, mom, or whomever, had used a pillow during the child’s sleep to make sure she didn’t wake again. The fire department transported her, with a police car following…and then the officer stood-by to relay the status update to his sergeant…so we would know if they needed to roll homicide detectives…just in case. I wonder what kind of day it would have been if the next notification I received wasn’t that some adult child found their parent dead in their bedroom with their body wedged between the bed and the night-stand…or if another message that I received hadn’t told me about the dead body that the city’s building inspector found when he was making a visit to one of the apartment complexes in town…or that one of the fire department’s truck-crews was on its way to the grocery store to buy their shift’s food for the day and found a dead body laying somewhere…just laying there, out in the freaking middle of the day on a sidewalk or in the greenbelt between the lanes of traffic…or if the dispatcher hadn’t needed to tell me that an officer was assaulted by some guy he had pulled-over for blowing through a school zone….
I wonder what kind of day it would have been if another dispatcher hadn’t told me that there was a “real” unknown-trouble hot call being worked on the central tactical frequency…the caller, of which, had reported that he found a Navigator in the parking lot that had blood all over the driver-side door and steering wheel and seat. Oh yeah, and about an hour ago he had seen a 50-some year-old white guy walking behind the buildings carrying a bloody bed comforter. What kind of day would it have been if we didn’t end-up finding that 50-some year-old white guy with seven bullet holes in his chest…and then sent officers to the Navigator’s registered-owner’s house in another city to talk with the man’s wife…to check on her and then ask about her shot husband…. “He left for work a couple hours ago…maybe a little later than usual…yeah, he works around such-and-such an area.” The officers thanked her for her time and then made some phone calls back to our dispatcher and patrol supervisors. A little while later, the officers went back to the man’s house and asked his wife if they could come in and take a look around. “Sure…come on in.” They found blood and…. What kind of day would it have been, if when the medical center called the woman to come down to identify her husband’s body…it hadn’t taken her two hours to get down there…to learn that her husband had been shot seven times and taken two bullets directly in the heart…and then managed to drive from his home in that other city to his work-place in the middle of our city…what kind of day would it have been?
When a different neighboring city’s dispatchers called us and asked that we check a certain vehicle leaving their city and coming into our city with four or five people inside who didn’t want to be inside, but were being driven against their will out and around and wherever…and we broadcast the information and an officer thought he was behind the vehicle and many more officers arrived to watch and follow and help when and how they could…and somehow that vehicle turned in front of or behind and into an alley or neighborhood and parked in some dark invisible place and we lost them and didn’t know where they could be…but those four or five people had dark skin and said they had been kidnapped…what kind of day would it have been if that hadn’t happened?
Later that afternoon, what kind of day would it have been if we hadn’t come across a drop-house, a den or lair of human coyotes who steal and smuggle and rape and kill and extort and abuse people who trusted them to bring them to a better life across a river and imaginary boundary that exists on maps and in minds…and officers set an inner and outer perimeter to catch all of the fleeing coyotes when they ran…and we caught four bad-guys and rescued four good guys and gals and called ICE to come and get “their” people….
And what kind of day would it have been if a caller hadn’t found that little two year-old wandering the street in his diaper and striped tennis-shoes…hadn’t called us and said “Please come get this baby…yes, I’ll stay here until you get here, I couldn’t just drive by and not stop”…like so many people do sometimes.
What kind of day would it have been if the young man hadn’t called to tell us that his friend was going to kill himself…had a gun and was going to do it…and was going to leave the apartment door unlocked for us…what kind of day would it have been if he hadn’t refused to come out of the apartment when we got there…if he would have just come out on his own…but no, we had to call it a barricade and call-out the dogs and the SWAT guys and restrict the channel so the dispatcher didn’t have to work any other traffic…just listen to me…to us, as we work this mess…all for a guy who wanted to die, but was too chicken or too undecided to do it after telling everyone that he was going to…and we set-up our police camp and command-post outside his door and around the corner and pretended that there was a real boogey-man inside who was a threat to himself and others and we were coming to protect the “others” from him in case he decided not to hurt himself, but them. What kind of day would it have been if we had packed our shit and just walked and driven away from that guy who didn’t want to come out…?
What kind of day would it have been if the mom or dad or aunt or grown cousin of that little diaper and tennis-shoe clad two year-old had come looking for him so we didn’t have to place him with Child Protective Services…if they had even noticed he was gone?
What kind of day would it have been if that other neighbor hadn’t called us to tell us that a woman was chasing her eight year-old son through the apartment complex holding a knife in one hand and a belt in the other…running and yelling “Get back here, you little shit-head…I’m gonna beat yo ass!” What kind of day would it have been? “I don’t think she’s right in the head,” the caller told the 9-1-1 operator. She had left her one year-old and six year-old kids in the apartment as she ran and chased her older son. An officer cleared after a bit and asked that we roll the counselor/crisis-team van from the fire department to take care of the other kids.
And what kind of day would it have been if there weren’t constant and insistent messages flashing on my computer screen all fucking day long about police needing to come to this school and that, this hospital and that hospital or this aunt’s house or grandmother’s house or CPS worker’s office to take this report and that report about some loved one or trusted one or some stranger or some assistant coach hitting or bruising or fondling or fucking some child who was just going about their days and lives trying to be a kid over the weekend or last week and he’s still got bruises…and the 16 year-old girl woke-up this morning and she was naked and groggy and it was burning and hurting between her legs and she doesn’t know what happened or how she got where she was and she just called her mom and she called us…and the Spanish-speaking father called us to say that his 14 year-old son was walking home from the store and a truck full of Mexicans had pulled-over and grabbed him into the truck and then stole his cell phone and wallet and had beat him and touched him “down there” and…what kind of day would it have been if another dad hadn’t called to report that he found text-messages on his 17 year-old son’s cell phone talking about how he was having sex with the dad’s 26 year-old girlfriend…what kind of day would it have been?
And those were just some of the things that happened in only eight hours of a single Monday at 9-1-1 and police dispatch…just one shift…in the fifth or sixth largest city in the country….
I had stood beneath the streetlamp and watched the yellow glow bounce from the crystal frost on the roof of my truck like the moonlight on a tessellating sea…and as I moved my eyes, the painted ice caught the light and reflected back to me a million sparkling stars…ones that would later melt from the truck’s roof and flow down my back window like a springtime rain. As I pondered the frost and my breath’s vapor in the wintry air, I noted the quiet of the pre-dawn Christmas morning and wondered what the day would hold for me and the call-takers and dispatchers at work. I was off on Christmas Eve, but yesterday, Christmas, Friday, was the Monday of my work week…so I was moving in that direction…but slowly…I still had to stand there for a minute in my shirtsleeves…relishing the cold…blowing more vapor clouds into the dark sky of my morning and watching the crystal moonlight yellow streetlight dancing on the rooftop frosted sea of my truck…before deciding to go back into the house for my jacket and then heading downtown to work.
The ride to work was uneventful, as were the first several hours in the call-center. After we had determined that all the dispatch positions were covered and the call-takers were all nestled down at their consoles, waiting for calls of Santa Claus committing armed robberies and home invasions, three of the staff went about preparing the much longed-for Christmas morning potluck. Calls came-in and were handled in their routine fashion as our coworkers scrambled eggs, fried bacon and sausage, warmed-up the French-toast ‘casserole,’ arranged and stirred the ingredients in a crock-pot for Joy’s highly esteemed dip, and scavenged in the shift manager’s office for paper plates, cups, and other sundries. The other home-prepared foods were laid-out for us and an hour or so later, the charge was given to commence in the feasting. A couple people were allowed off the phones at a time to prepare their plates and participate in the away-from-home, 9-1-1 Christmas breakfast. The operators and supervisors assigned to first-shift (daytime hours) had to have the seniority to bid into positions on days, so they have been around long enough to know what to expect, or what can and usually does happen on Christmas and other holidays. Emergency services, especially 9-1-1 call-centers, get no breaks. They operate 24 hours a day every single day of the year…Christmas, Easter, New Years, Halloween, Hanukah, The Fourth of July…all of them…when you need us we’re there.
So we answered the phones between bites of eggs and pancakes and sent police officers to domestic violence and fight calls after putting-down our cups of orange juice…ornamented Christmas trees with lights and presents adorned our call-center, and many of our normally uniform-clad operators and dispatchers were in their holiday-finest clothes and felt really damn nice about it. People were happier, cheery, and enjoying their jobs more because they were released from the standard black shirts and pants and boots and thick leather belts…they were moms and dads and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters answering the calls of our citizens on this Christmas morning.
Amazingly, there were no armed robberies yesterday…no hot-calls for thefts of carloads of presents…only one stolen-bicycle call…and a nice collection of domestic violence calls, both physical and verbal, over some damn thing or another…and too many boyfriends were the perpetrators…and too many kids witnessed their separated families coming together for the required child-exchange…and too many dads’ new wives had to call us when the children reported what their drunk mom and her boyfriend had done to them on this Christmas morning. We had a bunch of minor thefts…mostly multiple 18-packs of Budlight or individual 40’s of some other brand…someone stole a jug of milk from a Circle K convenience store…someone else stole some kind or other kind of Christmas morning candy…and some modern Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread…and my co-worker supervisor drove around yesterday morning…to four different convenience stores looking for dish-soap to be used in our post-breakfast clean-up at 9-1-1…he returned empty-handed…not as the victorious suspect of a soap-run who made a ‘clean get-away’ from the nearby corner-store.
Death visited us only twice during our shift yesterday…one old-guy passed-away in his extended-care facility and one not-so-old guy passed away in the lobby of the local alcohol recovery center, on Christmas morn’. We sent police to shoo-away trespassers who were begging/panhandling for money…to accidents involving people who were rushing to their masses or other worship services for the new-born savior…and to search for an 83yo man who wandered away from his elder-care facility…and he’s still missing today…at the end of today, a day later…he’s still missing.
We sat in our chairs at our consoles and watched the eternal scroll or marathon of A Christmas Story on TBS, and while I couldn’t hear any of the lines with all of our televisions on mute, I think I may have seen every scene four or five times yesterday morning…the kid being rushed upstairs after hurting his eye with his new air-rifle…the same kid rushing upstairs to put-on some damn bunny outfit…the sexist father with his new lamp of a burlesque dancer’s leg as his wife blushed and covered her face with her hair in the living room window as the dad stood on the sidewalk across the street with the other neighborhood men as the dad motioned to the mom to move the lamp this way and that to center it in the window…you know what I mean.
And…a friend of mine sat in his wife’s hospital room on Christmas Eve, waiting for her to wake up after having surgery to fix a botched-up surgery that she had a couple months ago…thoughts of this friend and his wife swirled in my mind as I answered my phones and watched the operators fill their plates and laugh at their stories with their pretty Christmas shirts and hairdos on…. This friend of mine, Jason, also has a blog (listed in the blog-roll in the side-bar to the right of this article) and he shared his reflections on this Christmas morning. Jason mentioned that a few weeks ago another coworker suggested that he write something on the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas…and he thought about it and then wrote a posting on the Twelve Days of Christmas: 9-1-1 Style…Jason is rather witty, so it’s a fun read. After he went home yesterday morning from being with his wife in the hospital, Jason wrote another blog…he had his opportunity to reflect on what might be the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas. He was touched by his love for his wife, his esteem for his co-worker who left her kids on Christmas Eve to come to work for him so he could be at the hospital with his wife…he thought about his other friends who had sent him text messages encouraging him, uplifting his spirits…and he thought of his friend from across the country who sent flowers to his wife in the hospital…even though he had never met her. I saw Jason this morning at work…with his tired and gentle eyes…hurting, thoughtful, grateful…and ready to go home. He captured the essence of Christmas in his blog…it was pure…a challenge and a reminder…for all of us. A reminder for all of us that life happens…to all of us…and we should be thankful for what we have, the people in our lives, our friends…those trusted ones who love us through thick and thin…as we answer the phones ‘9-1-1, where is your emergency?’
We did that yesterday, all day, we answered the 9-1-1 phones…sometimes it was little stuff and sometimes it was real…the substance of 9-1-1…when life happens. You might have seen some of it on the news today…a five year-old girl was kidnapped by a stranger as she and her sisters were playing in the common area of their apartment complex…just snatched her and ran…crashed into another vehicle as he was leaving…and was spotted about seven hours later by one of our canine-officers…(the little one was recovered and returned to her family…you can find the rest of it in the news)… on Christmas Day….
And it was Christmas Morning and Christmas Day in our 9-1-1 call-center yesterday…happiness was there amid the memories of lost friends and coworkers…a card was still on our supervisors’ desk for everyone to sign for the highway patrol officer that was killed last week…many of us are reading books with our places saved by bookmarks that were made in memory of our friend Pazzie who passed away just over a week ago…and as we watch the clock and answer our calls and dispatch our officers and wait for our shift to be over, we wonder at the Christmas mornings that were shared by that officer’s and Pazzie’s families yesterday….
And, so this was Christmas….