Now THAT’s Unprofessional!

"911...what is your emergency?"

“911…what is your emergency?”

There are many professions where a whimsical, even a black sense of humor is useful, perhaps essential. If M*A*S*H taught us anything, it taught us that. 911 operator, however, is not one of them.

I say this knowing that I would be dreadful at the job, as I find it hard not to see humor in disasters that befall others, or even myself—-too many Warner Brothers cartoons, perhaps. 911 operators must maintain a cool, calming, respectful demeanor, even when they are being told by a panicked mom that her kid super-glued a rat to his sister, that her home has been invaded by thugs dressed as Muppets, or the house has been engulfed by a flood of molasses. I couldn’t do it.

But then, it’s not my job.

It was the job of the operator on this call, though:

911: 911 what is your emergency?

Caller: My car just kinda caught on fire, my girlfriend caught on fire.

911: Is your girlfriend still on fire?

Caller: No.

911: No? (laughter in background)

911: Ok. (chuckles) Umm…  Is your vehicle still on fire?

Caller: It’s hilarious huh?

911: Sir, is your vehicle still on fire?

Caller: I just heard you smirk… Inaudible.

911: Ok, sir it wasn’t regarding that ok.

Caller: Yeah, I just heard you laugh.

Later, the caller called back to make sure the operators took him seriously, and weren’t just sitting around trading flaming girlfriend jokes. I don’t blame him.

Sorry, but this is a firing offense. 911 operators deal with life and death crises, and a tendency to get the giggles may get someone killed. Hey, I get it. In some professions, however, the only way to be trustworthy is to be deadly serious, every second of the workday. If you can’t manage that when someone calls to say that ticking time-bomb is strapped to his dachshund and he’s running through the house or that their grandmother is has a sex toy stuck in her windpipe, you’re not just incompetent, not just in the wrong career…you’re risking lives.


Pointer: Breitbart

Facts: KGUN 9

17 thoughts on “Now THAT’s Unprofessional!

  1. Hope they were fired. It’s not like the old days playing on the phone and dialing the Blue Moon Bar and asking if you could let Prince Albert out of the can…..this is 911 Emergency….

      • There are two, at least where I come from, since the call-takers are cvilians and the dispatchers are cops, and I’ve battled both of them over just this kind of crap – including a call-taker playing music over the line and a cop referring on the air to an area of the city as “the ghetto.” Thankfully the commanders of communications are usually superior officers who take a very dim view of this kind of behavior. The crowning failure was a fire operator who took a call from a school and failed to jab the “send alarm” button, resulting in 15 minutes going by before someone noticed the error and hit it. I do not envy the battalion chief the earful he got from a VERY angry school principal when the engines rolled up well over their 4-minute response time. Thankfully no one was hurt. The unions still went to bat for this idiot and he drew only a 60-day suspension instead of termination.

  2. After getting past the IVR and actually talking to a 911 rep, I would expect them to take everything said seriously.

    A possible example based on the situation above (although at first glance may seem straight from a slapstick comedy), would be, perhaps the car was on fire, and his girlfriend wasn’t — then she went to get out of the car and caught fire… and thus the “and so is my girlfriend” moments later on the call. The girlfriend, possibly knowing the basic stop-drop-roll, she may have done this to put herself out, and thus no longer on fire.

    Regardless of specific circumstance, as an emergency operator they have a duty to not joke around in the office while on queue, and to take every word on every call seriously — and to try and ascertain as much legible information as possible while simultaneously dispatching the necessary emergency teams.

    No clowns on 911. We already have enough of them in tech support !!

  3. I suspect the 911 operator on the phone is not the main one who needs to be punished (although she does too). It sounds like there is horsing around going on in the call center. The operator laughs at whatever is going on, not at the caller (that is what the background laughter is).

    The caller isn’t that funny, but I do have a hard time taking him seriously. He really doesn’t seem to care that much about his girlfriend or what is going on, or doesn’t seem to think it is that urgent. “uumm my car kinda caught on fire…..oh yeah, my girlfriend caught fire too” is how it came across. The way he is approaching this, it seems like this could have happened hours ago. I might assume he was in shock except that instead of insisting that the 911 operator get an ambulance out to this address pronto and stop giggling like a schoolgirl, he decided to argue with her about the laughter. She doesn’t have the address, can’t send an ambulance or fire until she gets it, and he wants to waste time arguing about laughter in the background?

    • I agree with your initial assessment.. Other operators laughed at the caller, causing the responding operator to laugh… Unprofessionalism in the room.

      However, the caller sounded serious, and he did not sound drunk or snarky. He should have been attended to without comment.

  4. An operator makes one mistake and should be fired as a result? It was reported that this was the first incidence for this operator, and had no effect on 911 response time. GET REAL!

    The larger problem is not this particular operator but the entire office, since they were all laughing initially at the caller. This type of unprofessional behavior starts with shift supervisor expectations, or possibly department manager.

    So whoever is responsible for this 911 office needs to ensure:
    1) Are expectations for professionalism clear, and is reinforcement of those expectations being done on a regular basis?
    2) Are the penalties for unprofessional behavior established and clear, and remedial training planned?
    3) What are the metrics for 911 response and are they satisfactory? Low performers tend to exhibit poor interpersonal skills, so the problem may be linked to a couple of employees dragging the group down.

    • I know that you are opposed to the concept of “fired for cause,” being in the “we’re entitled to keep jobs regardless of performance” camp that has rotted the work force and work ethic of the US, but the fact is that you are dead wrong. What other one-time offense is Ok with you, JJ? One time sexual harassment? Night watchman sleeping on the job once, unless killer terrorists get inside? One time drunkenness by airplane pilots—as long as nobody’s hurt, of course? One time embezzlement if the money is promptly returned?

  5. Jack,

    To abstract this: I don’t know of many problem solving or service providing industries, whose immediate client representatives, or whoever is the initial receiver of a client request, would tolerate a representative laughing at the problem of a client when the client first brings up the problem. Obviously a client wouldn’t bring a problem up to an appropriate problem-solver if they didn’t feel it serious enough. To respond with laughter implies the service provider does not appreciate the seriousness of the client or finds the client themselves laughable.

    Granted, this very much applies primarily to the initial request. In our industry, if a client calls with a problem, and we have a solid rapport with that client and the problem is a laughable one, there’s nothing wrong with some shared mirth over the situation.

    • Or even if the problem a long-term client brings is a serious one, a little levity to “break the ice” or connect may be appropriate, depending on the client (assuming you know your client). If the problem seems odd or unusual, I can also see asking them to repeat themselves to make certain you got it right. 911 stuff is never funny to the caller unless he is a prank caller, though, even if objectively it may be, for example a problem that could have been avoided but for obviously foolish behavior. Still, there’s never room for laughing in the caller’s ear. Dispatch the aid and save the laughter for the break room.

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