‘How many can say their job is different everyday’

Asia Ashley Staff Writer

September 7, 2013

The phone lines are almost always ringing at Troup County’s 911 call center.

Whether for minor or major emergencies, operators sit with their ear pieces and mics in the bottom floor of Troup County’s Government Center ready to send help to callers in need.

Operators go through about six to nine months of vigorous training, said Kim Phillips, Training Coordinator for Troup County 911, where they train on CPR and phone interaction, learn the proper first responders agency to dispatch and how to instruct on and handle medical emergencies.

Phone training, said Phillips, is the lengthiest and most difficult for operators due to potential emotional distress.

“The hardest part I see during training is call-taking,” said Phillip. “If you’ve got a mom who’s crying because her child’s not breathing, it could make you break-down after the call.”

Supervisor Tonya Massie agrees that calls involving children are the most difficult for operators.

“Anytime there’s something involving a child you can almost feel the emotion in the air here,” said Massie. “It’s almost like the whole room changes. And anytime someone dies, it’s difficult for us. If it’s one of those calls when the person doesn’t make it and even though you know you’ve done everything you were supposed to do, by the book, you second guess yourself. ‘Could I have done anything different?’ But after a while you just have to think ‘it was just there time to go.’ It’ll drive you crazy sometimes.”

One rare scare operators may encounter is answering an emergency call from their own family members.

Massie called a hang-up call from her mother’s residence and panicked as she called the number back. Her young nephew had answered and said her mother was passed out. She remained calm as she stayed on the phone with her nephew until deputies arrived to the house.

Like that call, all hang-up calls are referred to as “abandoned calls,” and operators are instructed to call the numbers back, though some of them may be accidental.

Last year about 157,000 calls were made to Troup County’s 911 call center, nearly 110,000 of them resulted in the dispatch of police, deputies, fire and/ or EMS personnel, according to Assistant Director Jerry Presnal. Most calls occur from noon until about 11 p.m.

“Times do shift. There’s always times when it’s different,” said Massie. “Years ago it seemed like more bad stuff happened at night, now it’s anytime of day.”

Getting the important information from callers first is vitally important in dispatching a call, especially an address and location of a caller using a cellular phone.

Calls from pre-paid phones are harder to track for location, since most of them do not require buyers to register with an address. A wireless tower can pick up cell phone signals, but generally shows only the area the call was made from, instead of an exact location for land-lines. Luckily if the number has called 911 before, previous call locations from the number can be tracked.

“We try to tell people and educate people to stay on the phone with us and answer all our questions and give us your location especially if you’re on a cell phone,” said Massie. “I really wish that everybody that has children had a land-line. Whether you have cell phone service or not, it’s good to always keep a land-line phone for kids in emergencies.”

In the seldom case of a major citywide emergency, when there may be multiple people calling — like gunshots heard, shooting or accidents — it can be difficult for the typically five to six scheduled operators to answer all calls.

People often times are angered with operators when an officer can not respond immediately due to these major circumstances, said Massie.

“Callers get angry a lot when we can’t send someone immediately because of whats going on like a shooting when multiple officers may be tied up,” Massie said. “If we get someone calling for something like harassing phone calls, that may be a hold for a bit for them, but not to to say their call is not an emergency. We’re not going to fuss back with them. We tell them that their is another emergency and officers are familiar with their call and will get there as soon as they can.”

In all calls, though, operators have a goal to dispatch or inform the proper agency within 45 seconds of receiving the call.

Through the good and bad days, long term operators typically really love their jobs.

“If you really enjoy it, you stick with it,” said Massie who’s been with the agency for 20 years. “Even on the bad days, I honestly can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s different everyday. How many can say their job is different everyday?”

Some calls are not always unfortunate; some leave operators with laughs and memories. Below are a few funny and memorable calls that a few Troup County 911 operators shared:

• A call had been made from a residence, with the caller making a stranger “murmur noise into the phone,” that the operator believed sounded like a cat. The caller quickly hung up and the operator began to panic believing that the caller could be experiencing a medical emergency. The operator called the number back, and a woman answered the phone stating that no one called from the number. The woman then concluded that her cat had accidentally dialed 911 since it was seated on the phone.

• A caller would frequently request for someone to remove the people who were living under her house. The woman would throw food under her house to feed the “people.” Police would arrive to find that no one was living under the house that was filled with old smelly food.

• A caller told an operator to send an ambulance for some at their location. The operator asked what the medical emergency was and a woman in the background was heard saying, “Tell them I’m having a diabetic seizure,” though someone having a serious medical emergency like a seizure would not be able to speak.

• A call was made indicating there were “gators in the roadway.” The operator informed responding units that there were alligators in the roadways and officers responded to the incident location to see shreds from blown out tires in the roadway. The operator learned that day that Gators, is a brand of tire and whose shreds typically look like alligator skin from afar.

• A woman called complaining of hearing noises of people walking around in her attic. When a deputy arrived to her home, the woman got him to check the attic and she locked him inside the attic. The woman ran outside and locked herself in the back of the deputy’s patrol vehicle. The deputy was unable to get a signal through his radio from the attic, but another deputy arrived at the residence to check on him after receiving no word from the deputy. It was determined that the woman was suffering a mental illness.

• A frequent caller would request that someone get “all these people” to leave her house. Whenever officers would arrive, no one but the woman was found inside the residence. It appeared that the woman, who suffered an illness, thought that the voices from the TV were actual people inside her home. Whenever officers responded to the calls of people inside her home, they would simply turn off the TV and the woman was satisfied.

Even after numerous calls from the same person about the same thing, operators are trained to still treat them as a serious emergency call.

“We have to think, ‘what if this it’s for real this time? What if something is actually happening?’”said Massie.