I Just Like Your Voice

Grace Bell, Public Safety Telecommunicator, City of Helena / Lewis & Clark County 911 Communications Center

It was a mid-December evening, around dinner time, when I answered a 911 call. Never knowing what’s going to be on the other end of the line when answering can be stressful at times – an in-progress domestic or assault, a car accident with injuries, a successful suicide – or in my case that evening, a six-year-old child.

Me: 911, where is your emergency?
Child: Hi.
Me: Hi. Do you have an emergency?
Child: No, I just like your voice.
Me: Thank you. How old are you?
Child: I’m six.
Me: That’s a good age. Are your mommy or daddy home?
Child: Yeah, my mom is.
Me: Could I please speak with her?
Child: No, I want to talk to you.
Me: Okay, but could you please give the phone to your mom?
Child (yelling): No!

Call was disconnected…

Per our policy, I called the number back, in an effort to ascertain if there really was an emergency at the residence, or if it was just a child playing with the phone.

Phone rings…

Child: Hello?
Me: Hi, can I please speak with your mom?
Child (screams): No!

Call was disconnected again…

Called the number back a second time.

Phone rings…

Adult female: Hello?
Me: Hi, this is the 911 center, we received a call from your child. Is everything okay?
Mother: Oh, my gosh, yes, everything is fine. He was playing with my phone again. I am so sorry!

I gathered the appropriate information – address, mother’s name, and confirmed her phone number – and sent an officer to check on them to make sure they were okay. Which they were. Other than perhaps the mother being embarrassed by her child calling 911 when there wasn’t an emergency.

This was of course a happy and amusing outcome to a 911 call. I’ve only been a Public Safety Telecommunicator since August 2016 and have taken a few tough calls. The hardest one was a teenage female who was successful in her suicide attempt with a handgun. Her father called 911 sobbing. I remember the date and the call almost verbatim. Some of them just stick with you.

When I first started this job, someone told me the most difficult thing about being a PST was often times not having any closure. And while I would agree, the most rewarding thing about this job is being able to help people. It can be stressful always seeing people at their worst. You can easily become jaded and cynical. Or if you’re like me, you’re already a bit jaded and cynical. But I digress.

This job is very mentally challenging and even after a relatively short time as a PST, I can easily see why people become burned out – and why there’s such high turnover. I think one of the most important aspects is that we always remain a team. Not only with our co-PSTs, but with law enforcement and other first responders. Because let’s be honest – without them, we can’t do our job. But without us, they definitely can’t do theirs!

We’re far more than just dispatchers. We’re the bridge between law enforcement and the public; the help line between EMS and fire and those who need them most. As PSTs, WE are THE first responders. Even if we don’t have boots on the ground.