How does the story end?
Wendy Gebicke has been a 911 phone dispatcher for nine years, the last two with the Chico PD. Her job requires multi-tasking in a phone room, alternating between fire and police 911 calls with another employee, simultaneously taking information, calming callers and alerting response teams. The minimum requirement for the job is a high-school diploma, good typing skills and a required three-week training course, but most of the training comes on the job.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
First, the hours—we work nights, weekends and holidays. It’s hard to tell your family on Christmas that you have to go to work. The other part is closure. We don’t get a lot of closure to our jobs. We take the call, send help, whether police or fire, and then sometimes we don’t know what happened to that person. Sometimes it’s hard not to know.
What’s your most memorable call?
When it’s bad and frightening they stick in your mind—there’s nothing like a female screaming for help. But we try to forget those. … I have a funny one: I got a night call from a female once, and she was saying it was raining in a three-foot circle in her back yard. She couldn’t figure out where, why, what was happening. It was kind of a slow night, so we sent an officer out—we wanted to know, too! After a while he called me and said an air conditioner with a copper water pipe had broke and was spraying from her roof and she couldn’t see it because it was night.
What has your job taught you about human nature?
Sometimes people just want someone to talk to. People say bartenders are like counselors; I think 911 dispatchers are the same. Sometimes people call and just by talking to us solve their problem. It’s also taught me to be humble about my own circumstances. Maybe I’m having a bad day and feeling sorry for myself—I come in here and take calls from people having the worst day maybe of their lives, and it puts things in perspective.
Have you ever made a 911 call yourself?
I have. It’s interesting, because even though I’m a dispatcher, I still get nervous. It’s not a comfortable feeling to have to call 911 yourself, whether you do it for a living or not. It’s different when you’re the caller and going through your own problem.
What happens to all the recorded calls afterwards?
We keep them all for a year. If it’s something important and we need the call for evidence, we pull the original tape and book it into evidence. But a minimum of one year for all calls.