911, Disasters and Kindergarten

I will be gone from early morning till this afternoon so I’ll post this now. Why will I be gone you ask?  I have date. A date with 120 Kindergarten kinds. (shoot me now)

In my other life,  I’m an E911 Dispatcher in a small rural county.  Trust me, it can be boring or so dern busy you don’t have time to scratch your butt. Every year for 6 years now, I have gone to the local school and spoken to the Kindergarten Kids during “E” week about Emergencies. I take coloring books and wear my uniform and headset, role play with them, etc. They love it and I never fail to be amused at some of their answers.

I really wanna be able to go during “W” week and talk about being a published author. (Oh, to dream)

So just to share with you, I am taking a page from my dispatcher log. Here is a brief glimpse behind the scenes during a disaster.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Natural Disasters/Blizzard/E911

During natural disasters, things in the 911 center really get fun. Hectic, chaotic, tension-filled, dramatic, and life threatening, but fun. Double shifts on the radios and phones, cramming a few hours sleep in when you can, cooking for a mismatched family out of whatever you have in the fridge, you get closer to your co-workers and strengthen the bonds. Nothing like washing your panties out in the same sink as your partners to draw you closer. You sleep in a bed still warm from the last occupant and share your precious stash of tampons and oreo cookies.

During the February 2003 blizzard, I made it to work on Sunday at 7PM. I clocked out Thursday at Noon. I went back in Friday at noon and worked until Sunday around 6PM. It was me, my boss, and three other dispatchers. That was it. No one else could make it in due to weather. Already 2 feet of snow was on the ground and it was still coming. By Tuesday, 5 feet had fallen from the sky. Now, it compacted as it fell, so we had about 47 inches on the ground. Nothing was moving.

BUt emergencies still happen. We had people at a wilderness retreat running low on vital heart medications, several heart attacks, a childbirth and a broken leg. We also had a bunch of extreme campers who got stuck way back in the boonies. Let me go on record that I think if you are stupid enough to go camping when you know there is a blizzard coming, then you get what you deserve. But we spent three days coordinating people and machinery and got them out of the mountains. We had patients being hauled down roads on sleds and construction equipment and what ever we could find.

Snow that heavy was collapsing roof tops and buckling garages. The fire departments were working around the clock helping people shovel off the house tops. The national guard came in on wednesday and used HumVees and huge trucks to cart people to shelters set up in church basements and school gyms. One Sgt. fell asleep in our center on the floor using a roll of paper towels for a pillow. We just walked over him when we needed too.

We dispatchers are in our glory when we are that busy. There is nothing like the feeling of having all your lines lit up, every company in the county out and you behind the controls. After the first 24 hours, things get slap happy between you and co workers. We had impromptu sing alongs and dispatched shoeless and in sleep shirts and with our hair going wild. Suppers of chili and spaghetti were quickly eaten and bags of microwave popcorn got passed back and forth. In between frantic times, we play trivia pursuit to keep our mind sharp while underwear of varying sizes drip dried in the utility room. If a tragedy occurs, we weep with loss, dry our eyes, soothe our voices and move on to the next call.

You become the job, live, eat and breath the radio, the microphone, the telephone. You dream of punching buttons and sending units into the pouring white snow. When that tiny newborn cry comes over the radio, you laugh out loud and congratulate everyone as if you had given birth yourself. One tiny fragile cry in the frozen night, white lace spots streaming from the pitch black sky makes the entire ordeal worth it.

Then the snow stops and begins to melt and you deal with the aftermath of flooding and rerouted traffic and digging out. You tally the dead farm animals, the property damage, the human cost, file your reports, log your time and go home to your soft bed and hot showers. Until you do it all again.

911 never sleeps. It lives, it breathes, it cries. But never sleeps.



Filed under Inez, misc.

6 responses to “911, Disasters and Kindergarten

  1. You are AMAZING. I have EMT training (about a zillion years ago) and I know how intense your job is. You have my undying respect and admiration!

  2. No training here, but I agree. You are amazing!
    (psst you’ll get to the W week too!)
    Thanks for all you do.

  3. Wow…I’m impressed. 🙂 I actually tried to become a 911 operator here in Portland, but they wouldn’t accept me because they said I wasn’t…what was the word they used? I think it was “compassionate” enough. LOL! I’m sorry, but one of the questions was along the lines of “If someone called to tell you that they hear something outside their door and this is the fifth time said person had called in, what would you do?” I think my answer was smart alecky & annoyed. Man, I hated that test. 🙂

    Anyway, maybe you could use your expertise as a guide for a story someday? Write what you know, right? I loved this entry though. Very interesting perspective.

  4. talesfromthecrit

    Wow, Inez. You should really think about writing for a magazine. I am not mistaken that you wrote this correct? I spent years writing free-lance and there’s decent money in it. It’s kind of a pain but you have an amazing non-fiction voice and it might be worth the trouble. This was compelling and fresh. I suggest it for a little extra cash on the side.


  5. Inez, the life of a dispatcher sounds just like the life of a nurse. I remember week-long blizzards in WV when I waved goodbye to my mom as a firetruck picked her up to take her to work, because she was one of the nursing staff who lived the closest. We’d finally see her 5 or 6 days later, when somebody else got dug out and made it in to relieve the first wave.

    Also, I am bizarrely teary today (I will NOT pop a Carrie Underwood CD in the stereo first thing in the morning ever again!) so your account of life as a 911 dispatcher has me all warm and fuzzy and tearfully grateful that jobs like yours, and people like you, exist. 🙂

  6. Whew. I’m tired just from reading all the action. You really do deserve to be snarky and poke as much fun at me as you can 🙂 No Sarcasma for you!!!

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