More ridiculous 911 calls

QMI Agency photo

QMI Agency photo

Nadia Moharib, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

Dissatisfied with a stripper's skin colour, furious because fast-food staff didn't put ice in a cup of cola, or wanting to know how long a 24-hour licence suspension lasts — these are some issues prompting folks to actually resort to dialing 911 for help.

Surprisingly, perhaps, alcohol does not play a role in the bulk of the colourful cases.

Most of those making quirky calls are sober, albeit a bit unclear on what constitutes an emergency.

"In the beginning, it's frustrating," says Public Safety Communications emergency communications officer (ECO) Leah Furniss.

"But you start to understand, it's just a matter of perspective. For them, it is an emergency."

As time-consuming as such calls might be, tying up lines for bona fide emergencies, staff concede they can be amusing, adding a little levity to a job renowned for tense and often dark calls.

Sometimes a seemingly strange one can be a real emergency, which is why ECOs always humour such callers, listening a little longer and asking a few more questions, just to be sure.

Elaine Daae says the "I don't know if this is an emergency but..." preface used by callers are often a good indication it isn't.

But any veteran ECO knows that isn't always the case.

Furniss once took a call on the police non-emergency line from a man claiming to be in Papua New Guinea.

"He was saying there are pirates on my boat," she recounts.

"I'm start to think this is a joke. Is Ashton Kutcher going to come out now?"

With yelling in the background, however, she didn't dismiss the possibility it was the real deal.

The man told her he was a University of Calgary student on a satellite phone who ran into trouble while on his high-sea adventures.

Panicked and relaying one pirate had a machete and another might have a gun, Furniss searched Google for local police.

About a year later, the caller stopped in to say he was rescued from pillaging pirates.

"Oh, heavens, we get so many," Daae, a 22-year ECO veteran says of the lighter side of the job.

"It's everyday."

Oddly, many of the goofy calls revolve around issues with fast-food outlets.

Recently, an irate woman at an A&W called 911 after receiving "a warm Coke" and that they didn't have any ice.

"Nothing is worse than a warm Diet Coke," Nina Vaughan, PSC commander jokingly adds. "Disgusting."

Exactly that caller's thoughts.

Yelling, screaming and hysterical, while her two children stood by, ECO sent police to deal with the situation.

Another caller complained after a fast-food chain gave them a girl toy at the drive-through when they asked for a boy toy and wanted 911 to send someone to fix the gender mix-up.

Another man on a skateboard said he wasn't being served, arguing his wheels were a vehicle and felt it necessary to dial 911.

"It seems to be a common denominator," Daae says of fast-food-spawned calls.

"Maybe they have an expectation of instant gratification."

Another one to chew on: A dentist removed a man's teeth and when he asked for his pearly whites back was told they had been disposed of.

"He called 911 saying the dentist stole his teeth," Daae says.

Some callers don't want to wait on hold on the non-emergency line, others simply want to vent and some just don't care their 911 call might be utterly inappropriate.

"People call when they don't know who else to call," Vaughan explains.

The city-run service linking people to emergency crews, fire, police or paramedics, also attracts its fair share of those with mental illness issues.

Many are so-called frequent flyers, including a regular who calls to swear at staff.

Vaughan says they link them with resources because "putting them in jail" isn't the way to solve their issues.

"If it is really busy we'll say we have an emergency call coming in," Daae explains.

Other times they will humour them and listen.

Daae had a caller who thought he was God and to ensure no one was hurt before help arrived, she played along.

"I became an angel trying to help him," she says.

"It was a very serious situation at the time."

Literally keeping an open line of communication is key.

Even with those who are arguably mentally well, but mistaken in their belief a 911 call is appropriate, are handled with care.

"To them it was an emergency, seriously the biggest crisis in their life," Daae says.

The five-year-old was bawling when he called 911.

"He had forgotten his Texas donut in his locker, school was closed, mom and dad aren't paying attention and that donut is stuck in his locker," Daae says, adding staff sent him a box of donuts.

"I love those calls. That's why I love this job, you don't know what the next call is going to be."

Just before Christmas an intoxicated man called after pulling over at the roadside.

"He wanted us to pick him up and put him in a hotel because his wife would be p----- off if he continues driving," Daae says.

"We did put him up for the night but not in his choice of hotel and I'm pretty sure his wife found out about it."

Another woman in a broken-down vehicle demanded a lift back to Lethbridge.

"She must have called 10 times," Daae says.

"She was a taxpayer and we better do this."

While some witnessing shootings or stabbings are strangely cool and collect, others with objectively lesser emergencies are not, including a recent caller hysterical someone had stolen her backpack, a day earlier.

Vaughan says they try to teach recruits, although it might be the 100th time they have taken a call for a break-in, it is likely the only time the caller has experienced one and the call is an "opportunity to make a difference."

Daae says the bonding which can happen during a shared intense moment is often misconstrued with some making romantic overtures.

"That's not ever going to happen," she says.

The job isn't for prudes, but Daae says she understands emergency situations can stress callers, some who colour up conversations with potty-mouth adjectives.

"I understand people are upset," she says.

"In all the f-bombs, they are still giving you information, you are still getting the story," Furniss adds.

"I've been called everything under the sun."

Trained to get to "the nitty gritty" quickly, staff say children are refreshingly candid and often much better than adults at taking direction.

"I'll take a kid in crisis any day over an adult," Furniss says.

Little ones, however, also make up a big percentage of the more kooky calls -- looking for help to contend with sibling rivalry or calling 911 as a prank, just to see what will happen.

The centre is the ultimate help desk, but staff aren't miracle workers and requests often unrealistic.

"I think a lot of times people call with a preconceived notion we can solve their neighbour dispute that has been going on for 15 years in seconds," Furniss says.

"Unfortunately, it's not a sitcom, we can't solve it in 30 minutes."

Others change stories to try to tailor them to see police being dispatched while others will call repeatedly shopping for an ECO who will give them the answer they want.

For those manning the lines, it's often a challenge to keep a straight face.

"We don't have to," 49-year-old Daae says.

"You have to be professional to go through that call," Furniss adds.

"And then you share. It kind of brings a little balance to the job, because we take some calls that are just horrible. The goofiness is sometimes good."

 

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Last year more than 917,000 calls were made to emergency operations officers at 911 and the non-emergency line.

About half were made to 911. Here are some of the more memorable, wacky ones:

"Yes, I've got what looks like a poisonous weed in my backyard. I think it possibly causes blindness. What should I do?"

A man called to say he was locked in the back of a car.

ECO "Can you reach over and open the front door?"

Caller "No."

ECO "Is this a police car?"

Caller "Yes."

So, I told him to do (as) the police officers told him to do.

Caller "Well, there are three of them and they are all laughing at me."

ECO "Has anyone been doing drugs or alcohol today?"

Caller "Oh, no, we are vegetarians."

"This isn't an emergency, however, I just wanted to make sure I had the right number in case I ended up needing it."

"I am not sure if this is an emergency to you but ...I am at Chicken on the Way and frankly the chicken was just awful. Would you eat awful chicken? Instead of giving me my money back they wanted to give me more crappy chicken."

Caller "I need to report a theft."

ECO "What was taken?"

Caller "My TV."

ECO "When did it go missing?"

Caller "Well, it hasn't .. yet. I just know my roommate it going to take it."

"Can you please tell me how much pot I can smoke before driving ... You know, like you can drink up to .08 and still drive but what is the limit on marijuana?"

"I don't have an emergency I just wondered what your hours are?"

"I just heard on the radio they are saying very poor driving conditions... I want to know what police think, should I stay home?"

"Power is out, when will it come back on because I can't cook."

Other ones include a lady calling upset about an auto accident, which is going to make her late for a hair appointment while a fellow reported buying ear buds from a dollar store, upset they don't work and the store won't give him a refund.

Another 911 caller said she ordered a white male stripper and received a black one, while a guy called about a large snake in his backyard that "looked very unfriendly." It turned out to be plastic.

As told to QMI Agency by one ECO, "The guy called 911, just in a fit, wanting his neighbour charged for watering his lawn. Apparently, the neighbour was watering his lawn when droplets cascaded over into the caller's yard, watering his lawn 'without permission.'"

 


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