******Not for the Faint of Heart******
This next 911 call I will share with you happened early on in my career in the summer. As you probably guessed by now, I was on the graveyard shift. This call is another one that took a dramatic turn for the worse and surprised me.
I came to work around 18:00 (6 pm). It was already hectic when I got there. I could see that many calls were already placed on hold, and the call-takers were doing everything possible to get through every call. I sat down, logged into everything, and tried to help with what seemed like never-ending calls.
Fast-forward seven hours later, it finally started to slow down enough to where I could turn around and talk with my co-workers for a little bit.
Right around 01:00 (1 AM), my 911 line rang, and I had no idea what would happen next.
I answered the call to a very somewhat calm lady. That is something I was not expecting. When I answer calls, a very panicked person is usually on the other line. So already, this call was unusual.
She first said, “Sorry to bother you, but I think something is wrong.”
I said, “Okay, what is going on? What is your address so I know where to send help.”
She said, “Well, all my smoke alarms are going off downstairs, but the ones upstairs are not. I think the fire department needs to come shut them off.”
I told her, “Okay, but do you smell smoke or see any fire anywhere?”
She said, “No, not at all. But let me walk down the hallway to make sure.”
Before I could ask my next question, she said, “Wait, I smell smoke, but it’s very faint. Maybe it’s coming from outside?”
As she told me she could smell smoke, I immediately started the fire department.
I don’t know why I did what I did next, but it was my first instinct. I told her, “Okay, well, just to be sure, why don’t you work your way outside and wait for the fire department.”
She said, “Okay, I just need to get dressed.”
I waited on the line with her as she set the phone down. Little did I know, each passing minute was working against me, and I had no idea. I’ll tell you why…
She returned to the phone and said, “Okay, I’m heading down the hallway.”
I said, “Okay, I will stay on the phone with you.”
Before I could ask my next question, she said, “Oh my god, there is a lot of smoke in here.” She started coughing and said, “There is graffiti all over my walls!” Now both she and I were panicked. My heart rate skyrocketed. But I couldn’t let her hear how panicked I was, and it was about to get worse.
She got on her stairway and said, “There are gasoline tanks everywhere!”
Before I could ask anything, she screamed, “My living room is on fire! I can’t get out the front door!”
The next thing I did was immediately change the call to an actual structure fire. Then I started seeing other dispatchers adding notes to my call. Neighbors were calling in, saying the whole house was engulfed in flames. I read those notes, and my heart stopped. The lady I’m on the phone with is stuck inside. I thought to myself, there has to be a way out. There has to be... think!
At this point, she was coughing and screaming. This call was getting chaotic with every second that passed. I had to regain control.
Finally, I asked, “What about the backdoor? Where’s the backdoor?”
Panicked, she said, “Okay, but flames are starting to cover it!”
I said, “As long as you can get through. You have to go. You have to try. Please go now.”
She said, “Okay, okay, where’s my dog?”
My heart dropped yet again. Before she could say anything, I told her, “Grab the dog, please.”
She said, “I have her; we're going out the backdoor.”
I said, “Okay, keep me on the phone.”
She cut off the rest of my sentence by saying, “I can’t get out of the backyard; the gate won’t open!”
I told her, “I will let police and fire know you're in the backyard. As long as your out of the house.”
I started putting in notes explaining my caller was stuck in the backyard. I needed fire to get her out.
Suddenly I noticed other notes being added to my call. I read: A suspicious man standing outside the house watching the fire with a gasoline tank in his hands.
When I saw those notes, I added my notes to the call saying: Advise police, this is the subject that set the house on fire. Of course, I didn’t know that for sure, but it was the first thought that came to my mind.
As I was typing the notes, the lady said, “The whole house is engulfed. I can’t get back any further. It’s scorching.”
I told her, “I know. You’re doing an excellent job. I’m letting them know where you are.”
She next told me, “The firefighters are here. They're on the other side of the fence. They're breaking the lock.”
Before I could say anything else, she said, “I’m with them; I’m okay.”
The call disconnected, and I watched more notes being added to the call. It read: Police taking one into custody on the southwest corner of the house. Fire is making an emergency withdrawal. This means the fire is out of control at this point. They can no longer fight the fire inside the house. It has to be from the outside.
At that moment, I was scared for the firefighters, but at the same time, I could finally breathe. At least she was out of the house. A couple more minutes inside would have been a very different outcome.
About a couple of hours later, police started adding more notes to the call: The suspect was going to be the victim's ex-husband. We have good arson charges.
When I read those notes, all I could do was shake my head. At that point in my career, I thought this call was UNBELIEVABLE. I couldn’t wrap my head around someone trying to kill someone by setting their house on fire. Now ten years in this field, I hate to say it, but it’s unfortunately not that surprising anymore.
Thank you all for letting me share! This one shook me. I believe this because this call started calm and routine and became chaos within minutes.
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