Things You Should Know Before Calling 911 for an Emergency

For a brief moment in time I was a 911 operator for the City of Fort Worth in Texas. I was told it would be the most stressful job I ever worked. I found that hard to believe seeing that I use to clean bathrooms for a living. Trust me, listening to people scream in the phone was a lot less stressful that cleaning up unmentionable body fluids after overgrown troglodytes with bad aim. And that was the WOMEN’S bathroom in a corporate building!!!

Anyway . . . my time as a 911 operator was very informative and gave me insight I feel obligated to share with the general public. Unless you are constantly ill or work in this environment, you have no idea what goes on in the communications center of your 911 offices.

First, it is a stressful job. Imagine picking up your phone and someone is yelling, “MY BABY IS TURNING BLUE!!!” That’s all they say, then the line drops off. Now, your response may differ depending on your life experience. Are you a new mother; a grandmother of 15; a soon to be dad; single with no kids and only plants to care for? In the training mode of 911, we have to recognize; regardless of our social, economic, racial or religious status; our main goal is to get the public help for those intense moments.

“MY BABY IS TURNING BLUE!!!” and then the line drops . . . how do you handle that.

911 has a large amount of tools to help track down callers in these cases. If the person is calling from a house phone and that phone is registered with the phone company, your home information “should” show on a screen in front of the operator. That information will include whose name the phone is registered, your address and the phone number you’re dialing from. If you’re on a cell phone and you have service with a major provider, we will get that phone number and may be able to pin point your location using grid coordinates with help from your provider. If you are using a cell phone that has had service disconnected, you can still dial 911. UNDERSTAND if your call drops when using one of these phones, you must call 911 back. These phones rarely pinpoint your exact location. They will more than likely bounce from one tower to the next.

Now, let’s say you have called and you’re the person whose baby is turning blue. After screaming “MY BABY IS TURNING BLUE!!!” you must stop screaming long enough to hear the operator say, “I’m transferring you to the ambulance.” A 911 operator is not a doctor, they are not at the hospital, they are not the fire department, they are not trained medical specialist. 911 operators offer a variety of resources to the general public to assist with emergencies. They do not solve your problems.

Take a deep breath and let them get you to the agency that can actually help you. If you need an ambulance, fire department or the police, state that. If the matter involves hospital transport or a need for the fire department you will be transferred to that agency. If either of those agencies feel a police presence is necessary, they will contact the appropriate police agency to assist. If it is specifically a police matter you will be asked a series of questions. No, it’s not to get in your business but rather to assist the police before they head out to a potentially deadly situation.

If you are having an altercation with a loved one, tell the operator that the love of your life has 5 guns, a machete and is a 5th degree black belt. We will need to let the police know this in order to send them with the right tools to get your dumplin’ to stop whipping your ass!!

Yes, I’m making light of some of these situations but understand, domestic violence is not a laughing matter and is the most frequent call received by a 911 operator during the late evening. The more information an operator gets, the more informed the police/fire/medical agency can be. I can’t recall how many times people called in and just said, “Send the police now!! (with added explanative). Sure we were able to send police, but how embarrassing for the person when the police showed up and took all parties to jail because everyone was screaming at each other and it couldn’t be determined who the culprit was.

Here’s the minimum information you need to give if you need the police.
Your name and the address where you need the police. Meaning, where is the incident taking place? Did a car on the highway just hit you or did your girlfriend just hit you in the head with an iron skillet.

If on the highway, we need to know

– What direction you were you traveling when the accident occured, the name of the highway and an exit name, number or mile maker.

I’m on 820 is not sufficient. If you’re a native to the Fort Worth area you know 820 is a loop (thus being called Loop 820). You can be on the North or South end of the loop. It is very important to pay attention to landmarks, mile markers and exit signs. If your 911 operator is a native of where you are calling from then you stand a good chance of getting help quickly. But, if you get a new operator who is just out of training and hasn’t lived in that city for very long, you may have a wait. The operator must know where you are before they send someone. If you’re on the North end of town and give information referencing the South end of town, you may be in a pickle.

– How many vehicles were involved?

Multi vehicle accidents can hold traffic up for quite a while. Especially if they happen between the hours of 6 AM and 10 AM or 4 PM and 6 PM in any major metropolitan city. Most people want to know if they are about to sit in traffic for 3 hours due to your “perceived” little fender bender.

– We need to know if you need an ambulance. If you’re not sure, the answer is probably yes.

Better safe than sorry.

– If the person who hit is still on the scene, do they need an ambulance?

The responding agency needs to know this.

-What is the color, make and model of your car?

How angry would you be if you had to call in several times to report your accident only to hear from the operator, “Sir/Ma’am, we are on the scene of that accident involving a red mustang and a tan Envoy” knowing you drive a green corvette and was hit by a purple Explorer. Don’t assume you’re the only person capable of getting hit on the highway. Especially in Texas!

– Are you blocking traffic?

We will need to make sure the correct officer is sent out and has the correct tools (flares, cones, lights . . .) to keep you safe.

Now, if the matter is that your girlfriend hit you in the head with iron skillet, we need to know the following:

-Your name
-Phone number (in case we get disconnected or our system freezes and doesn’t display your number).
-Is she still there?
– What does she look like (race, height, hair color, distinguishing marks . . .)
-What is she wearing?
-What is her name?
-Does she have any other weapons to your knowledge?

If you know this person is on medication and didn’t take it that day, please share that information with the operator. Also, if that person just got out of jail or has any mental issues. This is information that will help the officers . . . paramedics . . . whoever, assess the situation before endangering more lives.

If you need an ambulance or paramedics, state that as soon as the operator comes on. You will save a lot of time and expedite getting the aid you need.

So, those are the basics of what happens and should happen when you call 911. It is a service that was put in place to help the public. Hopefully having this bit of insight will help you if you ever have to call 911 for anything.

Here is some other helpful information pertaining to 911 calls.

If you are lost on the highway and need directions you should NOT call 911.

I became very familiar with a lady who would call in for basic directions. I was always courteous with her, and was always amused with her calls. This is how a basic call went with my directionally challenged caller:

CALLER: “I need to get to Arlington and you better hurry up and give me the directions because I’m on my cell phone and you can’t be using my minutes and you better get the directions right because I can’t be out here wasting gas!!”

911 OPERATOR: “Well Ma’am were are you that way I can pinpoint your location in the MAPSCO and get you to your destination”.

CALLER: “You don’t need to know where I’m at. Just get on that computer and tell me how to get to Arlington from I-35. And hurry up. You do know how to use a computer don’t you?!”

911 OPERATOR: “Yes Ma’am I do know how to use a computer and I’m going to get that information for you but I really need to know where you’re starting from.

CALLER: “Just tell me how to get there from the highway and I better not get lost or I’m calling back and talking to your supervisor!!”

Okay, you may be laughing, outraged or confused. But, yes . . . people will call 911 for directions, how to find super markets and my favorite. Those who call their doctors and get the answering machine which states, “If this is an medical emergency please dial 911”. You needing a prescription filled before going on vacation (in two weeks) is NOT a medical emergency. Getting to the mall to complete your holiday shopping is not an emergency. You can get directions from a gas station, you can go to the library and use their computer to map out the directions or here’s a thought, call the establishment you’re trying to get to and ask them to guide you.

Every city has a non-emergency number you can call for non-emergency issues. The one for the city of Fort Worth is 817-335-4222.

Here’s a major helpful hint. Do not let babies play with your cell phone. Even in the locked position it can dial 911. Also, tell the kids not to call 911 when they are out of school. If we get a prank call and are able to pinpoint where if came from, police will investigate. Meaning, if your little darling decides to call 911 at 5 AM on a Saturday morning and does not confirm your address when we call back OR turns the ringer off because he or she thinks they will get in trouble; we will assume you are in distress and will send the police. Yep, you will be awaken at 5:30 AM by police on your day off because your little angle was playing on the phone and then tried to cover it up.

One of the most disturbing calls I got was from a non-distinguishable number. The caller, who sounded like a young girl stated, “I’ve been raped at _______ school. Help me.” Then she hung up. I was tasked with calling all schools in the area with that name (2 elementary schools and 1 high school) and alerting the principals that they potentially had this situation on their campus. If it did happen it wasn’t reported. If it were a child playing on the phone it is imperative that parents, teachers and clergy explain to kids 1) why this isn’t funny, 2) how they take time away from authorities helping people who really need assistance, 3) karma!

Do Not Assume A 911 Operator Can Help You With All Issue; Even If You Dial The Non-Emergency Number

If you are arguing with your spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other . . . whomever, about visitation of your child, this is a civil matter. Call a lawyer. Texas actually has established a toll-free hotline for these issues – 866.292.4636. The police will not come out to tell your better half to let you see your child.

If you (out of the goodness of your heart) take in a border and that person starts to work on your nerves and you want them to leave; legal matter! Get a lawyer.

Bottom line, if you aren’t throwing blows it is being handled in a civil manner; therefore being a civil issue.

18 Wheelers Can Be Parked In A Residential Area No Longer Than 2 Hours.

There are some ordinance issues you may not be aware of. You should call your local city hall for direction to the right agency to answer questions about large vehicles parking for long terms, what are the hours people can play music loudly, can your neighbor paint their house to resemble a Holstein cow. The non-emergency number may be able to direct you to the right entity.

Do Not Assume You’re Speaking To The Same Person If You Have To Call Back Regarding An Incident.

If you are having multiple issues and have to keep calling 911 odds are you will not get the same person twice. We are normally baffled when we get the same people we helped earlier in the day. Your call comes in, it goes into a cue and is routed to a open operator.

Please do not get mad with the operator when they ask you to re-state the problem. If you have an on-going issue they may just need the address to view the old issue and then to guide you toward a solution.

Let our foreign friends know about 911

The Fort Worth communications division has a resource that will allow anyone to get help. Regardless of your native tongue or even if you are not able to speak at all, there are mediums in place to assist.

With the help of a language line we can (with the press of button) dial an interpreter and have them translate any language (Spanish, French, Farsi, Portuguese . . . ANY language). For those who are deaf or hearing impaired there are TDD tools in place to help us communicate with you as well.

Here are some more helpful hints to utilize to prevent you from ever having to call 911

-Don’t smoke if you’re hooked up to an oxygen tank.


“I need an ambulance. I was smoking in bed, my oxygen tank blew and my face is burned”.

-Ask your boyfriend his name on the first date just in case 30 dates later he tries to kill you and you need us to come and arrest him.


CALLER: “Help me! My boyfriend called me at work to say he’s coming here to kill me!”

OPERATOR: “Okay Ma’am we’re going to get you some help. Where are you and what does he look like?”

CALLER: “I work at the really big red building on the corner of Main and Cauliflower on the sixth floor in office 6507 next to the water cooler. He’s 6’1, 215 lbs, dark complexion, with a goatee, baldhead and he has a tattoo of a turtle in the middle of his back. Hurry, he’ll be here in 5 minutes!

OPERATOR: “Okay ma’am police are being advised of the situation. What does he drive?”

CALLER: “A black 2005 Escalade Limited edition with 24 inch rims and DVD’s in the headrest.

OPERATOR: “Well police are en-route, I just have one more question. What is his name?”

CALLER: “I don’t know. . . “

OPERATOR: . . . . (sitting on phone now starring at computer console totally confused) “This is your boyfriend right?”

CALLER: “Yes . . .”

OPERATOR: . . . (trying really hard not to judge . . .) “. . . and you don’t know his name?”

You discredit yourself when you do this. Now, this caller may have had a real threat, but her entire demeanor changed when asked the name of the “boyfriend”. Was she in danger? Was she just being overly cautious? Was she short on meds that day? Who knows! I sent the police and let them deal with.

-If you are in a car accident on a highway do not call your mother and ask her to call 911 for you!!!!


OPERATOR: “911 operator, what’s your emergency.”

CALLER: “My daughter just called and said she has just been hit on the highway by a semi.”

OPERATOR: “Ma’am . . . are you with your daughter?”

CALLER: “No, she just called and told me to call 911 because she was hit”

OPERATOR: “Ma’am where is she?”

CALLER: “Well, I’m not sure. She was so hysterical. Can you go out and help her?”

OPERATOR: (sitting and starring at computer monitor thoroughly confused) “. . . Ma’am we can’t help her if we don’t know where she is.”

The communications division does not have satellite cameras with telepathic modules. Not the one in Fort Worth anyway. If you don’t know where you are, please try to compose yourself. Ask somebody, stop and look around. Most importantly, don’t call your mama when you’re in an accident of this magnitude unless she works for the police department in your town, is on duty and can come and get you!

-Dissolve the first marriage before starting another one.


OPERATOR: “911 operator, what is your emergency?”

CALLER: “My boyfriend’s wife just came over here to drop off their kids and she was really rude to me . . . yelling and cussing and just being nasty. Can I file charges against her?”

OPERATOR: “Ma’am, are they still legally married?”

CALLER: “Yea, but he’s gonna file for divorce in about five months. We just need $300 more for the fees and then hopefully we’re done with this drama.”

OPERATOR: (starring at computer and thanking God for the single life) “Ma’am, that’s a legal matter. As long as they are legally married she is entitled to come to the house and drop the kids off. Texas is a community property state and would allow a wife to return to her home. Should you two get into a physical altercation please call back and we will send the police out.

CALLER: “So she can keep coming over here?”

I can’t even begin to talk about what I really wanted to say to this caller. But, since she’s not on the line anymore I’ll say it here.

If that joker doesn’t have a Decree of Disillusionment from and signed by a judge, he/she is still married. LEAVE HIM/HER ALONE!!!!!! It’s a legal matter.

-NEVER let a known crack head into your house


OPERATOR: “911 Operator, what’s your emergency?”

CALLER: “I’ve just been robbed”.

OPERATOR: “Sir, tell me where this happened”

CALLER: “In my apartment. I can’t believe this shit!”

OPERATOR: “Tell me what happened”

CALLER: “Well, Keeke Watson came by with a friend. I went to school with her and we cool and all, but not that cool. But, I’m a nice guy so I let her and her friend in, we drinkin, right and then they leave and I notice my $40 gone.

OPERATOR: “Did this just happen sir?”

CALLER: “Yea, about 2 hours ago! And you know she use to be a stripper and she work down at Hoochie Coo on Barkers Avenue. She a crack head too . . . all skinny and walking around lookin all bug eyed . . .

OPERATOR: “Okay sir, a report taker will call you back and get the specifics and will assign someone to your case”

Bottom line: If they are not there and there is no threat we will take the report over the phone. I don’t want to hear about Keeke and her issues. If she was a crack head outside of the door what changed when she crossed the threshold. Don’t invite crack heads into your home and put your own pipe down long enough to get some help.

Seriously, depending on the call volume, keep the story at a minimum. Odds are the person you’re talking to will only need some basic information from you and you will have to re-tell your story to someone else.

I truly hope this tidbit of information helps you to get the assistance you need as expeditiously as humanly possible. Be safe out there and be aware of your surroundings at all time. After September 11, 2001 we were all told to be more concerned with our surroundings. This should be an everyday occurrence. Not in a paranoid “they’re coming to get me” sort of way. But just a general acknowledgement that “something” could go wrong “if so, then what”. It may not be you who needs 911 assistance. It could be that couple at the end of the block who needs you to call the fire department for them or the lady in the mall whose 3 year old just went missing or the person trapped in the car on the interstate at the off ramp . . . Just remember it’s to be used for EMERGENCY purposes.

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