I'm a big fan of the "You Called 911 for That?!" campaign being run by the Washington County (Oregon) Consolidated Communications Agency, the dispatch center that handles calls in that area. In an effort to educate citizens that—as you certainly know by now—911 is to be used only for emergencies that require police, fire, or medical assistance, the WCCCA has been noting examples of calls it considers inappropriate and posting them on its Facebook page. (Oregonlive.com has also been covering the campaign.)
The agency gets major bonus points for also posting audio files of the calls. (It says the voices have been altered slightly to protect the callers' identities.)
The campaign has been running for six weeks now, and my favorite is still this one that I saved a couple of weeks ago with the potential headline "stuck zipper":
A man called 911 because the zipper was stuck on his wife’s coat and she could not get it off[, wrote Oregon Live]. The man told the dispatcher, the agency wrote on its Facebook page, that he didn’t want to ruin the coat and needed help.
This one is improved greatly by listening to the call, which I'm going to summarize anyway.
The caller starts right off by saying "Yeah, we got a problem here," like he's calling from Apollo 13 and they just heard a loud bang. But the next thing out of his mouth is "My wife is struggling in her jacket … can't get it off." While the dispatcher is trying to process that, he sternly demands swift action: "I want 911 up here immediately." Thinking that maybe the woman is having trouble breathing, the dispatcher asks if that's the case, to which the man responds, "She's all right, she just can't get her goddamn jacket off! And I'm pissed about it!"
You really need to hear that sentence. The poor guy is clearly very exasperated about the zipper thing, and his voice goes up a couple of octaves (I don't think the agency is responsible for that). I've listened to that sentence several times this morning and will probably do so throughout the day.
Here are the other winning non-emergency emergency calls (links go to the audio files):
- "We are trapped in our driveway because our neighbors are extremely rude." [They had blocked the driveway with their car].
- "I tried to pump the gas by myself, but the machine doesn't work." [The station turned out to be closed.]
- "[I'm calling about an] animal that howls at midnight every single night."
- "I need to activate my phone … because I'm being evicted. I'm under duress…. I'm just telling you my feelings." [He later escalated his condition to "extreme duress," still to no avail.]
Props to the dispatchers of Washington County not only for the campaign, but for the almost inhuman patience they show with these people.