For Bay County’s 911 Operators it isn’t all hurricanes and heart attacks, there’s plenty of crazy too.
“One recently was a man finding cinnamon rolls in his house, on the windowsill in the bushes,” said Sara Wells, Dispatcher for Bay County Emergency services.
There was the woman stuck in her old wedding dress. Another, which comes from 2007 and has entered local 911 operator lore, is from a woman who wants to talk about her day.
“I had a very bad day today,” the woman says at one point. “Because what I would really like people to do is put their food in their put their water in their den and go home and stay with their families. What’s more important, their family or their money?”
To his credit, the dispatcher is patient and kind while still trying to find a reason for the call. In that case, there was no reason, but in some cases, strange phone calls are a way for the caller to hide their true intent.
In November, an Ohio woman called 911 and pretended to order a pizza. The woman couldn’t speak freely for fear of her mother’s boyfriend who was inside the home and threatening the occupants with violence.
The operator asked if the caller was ordering a pizza, she responded, “no you are not understanding.”
He then figured out what was going on and was able to ask her yes and no questions, which she answered with, “yup a large pizza,” and “No, with pepperoni.” The operator then directed police to the home and told them not to use their lights and sirens. The suspect was arrested.
Local dispatchers say they have gone through similar incidents. A trained dispatcher has to be ready for these types of situations, they added. The idea of calling 911 and pretending to order a pizza went viral as a way for victims to call when they were in danger.
“I say you do what you have to do to get the dispatcher’s attention that you have an emergency,” said E 911 specialist Lesil Taylor. One suggestion, pretend you are calling an old friend.
“I haven’t seen you in forever,” Taylor suggested. “I really need your help.”
However, callers are urged to find better options when they can.
“Separate yourself and talk to the person that you are calling for help,” Taylor said.
Operators will try to get as much information as possible as they must let first responders know what they are walking into.
“Everybody’s safety is the goal at the end of the day,” Wells said.
Eventually, Bay County residents will be able to text 911 and use the text messaging system to talk to operators. Officials say that is a better option than talking in code and they expect to have the service go live in 2020.
In the meantime, 911 operators hope callers will respect the system. If a person sees law enforcement at the scene of a crash or firefighters at a fire a call to 911 is usually not needed.
“People are very well-meaning and they want to help and we appreciate it but sometimes it can get overwhelming,” Wells said.
There are also a lot of calls about pets, wild animals and other non-emergency issues.
The fire department will not come to get a cat out of tree. No agency responds to ducks or chickens crossing a roadway. Fish and wildlife officers do not remove sharks from local waterways.
“That is their habitat,” Wells said. “You have to consider when calling 911 if you are going to tie up life-saving resources for whatever the situation is.”
Another issue, old phones, and new phones. If an adult is setting up a new phone or smartwatch and the device dials 911 they are urged to stay on the line.
“We’re going to have to figure out what’s going on in the situation period,” Wells said. If you hang up the operator is going to call you. Better to stay on the line, describe what happened and everyone can move on, Wells added. No one will be in trouble.
At least, not as much trouble as a toddler can get into with an old phone. What parents may not realize is that nearly all old and discarded phones can still dial 911.
“You can have a Nokia brick from 2001 … They are able to call 911 and we can’t always get the phone away,” Wells said. “When your toddler comes up to you and says, ‘Hey Mommy the lady is on the phone or I’m talking to the lady grab the phone because sometimes they are actually talking to us.”