Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat

Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat

by Caroline Burau


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You answer a call from a fourteen-year-old boy asking for someone to arrest his mother, who is smoking crack in their bathroom. You talk with him until the cops arrive, making sure there are no weapons around and learning that his favorite subject in school is lunch. Five minutes later, you have to deal with someone complaining about his neighbor's clarinet practice.

What is it like to be on the receiving end of desperate calls for help . . . every day? Caroline Burau, a former newspaper reporter and nursing student who couldn't stand the sight of blood, takes a job as an emergency dispatcher because she likes helping people. But on-the-job training at the comm center proves to be more than she bargained for. As she adjusts to a daily life of catastrophe and comedy, domestics and drunks, cops and robbers, junk food and sarcasm, lost cats and suicides, she discovers that crisis can become routine, that coworkers can be mean—that she must continue to care and, at times, learn how to let go.

Praise for Answering 911

"The day may come when I have to dial 911. I hope to God that the person who answers is Caroline Burau or someone like her. Funny, honest, and elegantly simple, this book left me with a sense of grace and hope." —Alison McGhee, author of Shadow Baby, Rainlight, Was It Beautiful? and Falling Boy

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780873516020
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Publication date: 09/15/2007
Edition description: 1
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 476,545
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Caroline Burau is a 911 dispatch operator for the police and fire departments in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Table of Contents

What It's Like     3
Destiny, or Something     11
On-the-Job Training     46
Joe Wilson     63
Power Phones     69
Lily     78
Good Neighbors     83
Friends in High Places     90
Anniversary     93
Jurisdiction     97
My Marsha     101
Kristen     105
Coppers     108
Hostages     117
Smucked     124
On the Night Shift     126
That Loving Feeling     136
Just Too Silly     143
Changes     148
Words     152
On Burnout     156
The Parenting Option     165
On Wannabes     173
DOA     179
The Job     181
Retirement     186
Wherever You Go     190
Full Circle     195
Acknowledgements     205

What People are Saying About This

Michael Perry

"Burau puts us in the hot seat and shows us the madness, the sadness, and the gallows humor of a profession that serves and protects in ways we never dream. And by telling us what goes on when the microphone is silent, she has taken the voice on the radio and given it a heart."
author of Population 485

Customer Reviews

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Answering 911 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is honest, raw, touching, sarcastic and full of the stories the public never gets to hear. Caroline does a fantastic job showing us the less-than glamourous life our emergency responders deal with. This is a quick read, and one you won't want to put down. Life in the hot seat will entertain any reader that appreciates gut wrenching honesty and an eloquence unexpected from the girl next door.
Kiwiria on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've wanted to read this book for ages, but never seemed to be able to find it in any physical bookstores or libraries. Finally I gave up, and bought it online.It was worth the wait. Real-life stories from less-than-common careers have always fascinated me (other books that fit those criteria: "ER Confessional" and "Kitchen Confidential"), and "Answering 911" was every bit as interesting as I'd expected it to be. I liked Caroline Burau's way of writing and appreciated that she didn't feel the need to always tie the stories neatly together or draw up a moral, as they stood nicely on their own.One thing that quickly became very obvious to me was that this is not a job I'd be able to do. It would be utterly impossible for me to "leave work at work", and I have come to have the greatest respect for the personnel manning those phones.
lchav on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ah. So **that's** what life as an emergency dispatcher is like.
krsball on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A memoir about a woman working as a 911 dispatcher. I laughed out loud a few times. A fun, quick read by a Minnesota author.
HistReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being on the other end of the radio, I have utmost respect for dispatchers. They truly understand feeling helpless yet knowledgeable to be helpful. As a chaotic (or hilarious) situation unfolds in their earpiece, I am sure everyone of them desire to leave their tiny, dark room to assist the caller. While this book had a few descriptions of these instances, Answering 911 spends more time discussing the job as a whole and being a single parent. It was well written and not unenjoyable.
justpeachy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This memoir is a fascinating look into what it's like to be a 911 dispatcher. Burau's job is a difficult one, entailing long hours of boredom periodically interrupted by moments of intense stress and fear. As a dispatcher, she is many miles away from the scene of the crisis, yet she is living that crisis moment by moment with the caller. Sometimes, she never finds out the ultimate outcome of a 911 call. That's just part of the job. In addition to the stressful stories of armed robberies, suicides, and accidents are the humorous stories: a person calling to complain about their neighbor's clarinet practice, the woman who wanted the police to babysit her kids, and the person who got lost and called 911 for directions. This is an absorbing sneak peek into a job that most people don't know much about.
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Inside look at a 911 call center. The set up was unique, as far as I can tell. Any police department that I have ever known has their own dispatcher take the 911 calls (much like her job in the end of the book). Interesting look at the stress that the dispatcher's handle and some of the kooky calls that come in. A few years ago, I interviewed with a police department for a dispatch position, this book made me kind of glad that I didn't get the job. I don't know if I could have handled the stress. But I would have truly enjoyed knowing everything that went on in the neighborhood.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was expecting stories of actual 911 calls. While they were skimmed over, my overall impression was a gripe session from the writer. Complaining about callers, co-workers, policies, procedures and anything else that crossed her mind. Any employee in any field could write the same kind of book. Very disappointing!
dutcheja More than 1 year ago
This book was not what I expected. I thought it would be filled with amusing antidotes of being a 911 Operator but instead it is the true story of a woman who became a 911 Operator and her journey there. One of the interesting things is that she is from my home town of Minneapolis/St Paul MN which brought it all home for me. It was very interesting.
aimlyss More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very interesting and pretty funny at times.
SarahLauren More than 1 year ago
This book has a lot of not-so-good reviews, and I have to say that I am surprised. This book is a lot of what I was expecting - a memoir with a little bit of 911 call center drama mixed in. While it did get repetitive at times, it was certainly interesting to see how one woman rose above her past and has kept at her pursuit of happiness - one of these pursuits being a job at a 911 call center. The calls she describes were interesting and I found the progression of her skin getting thicker very intriguing - as someone who works in a field where a think skin is necessary, I saw where she was coming from. It was an easy read, a bit confusing in a couple of places where I had to re-read to understand what person was talking to the other, but overall an enjoyable 2-day read. I would recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love reading about all kinds of medical drama..and found this book hard to put down! I never realized that being a 911 dispatch operator could be so stressful.
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I finished this book within 2 days. I could definately relate to this book! Definately gives you the details of being a dispatcher and the goofy calls you get...good read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing. I marvelled at how similar we (dispatchers) all are. It was like reading a book about my own Comm Center. I suggested to all my co-workers, especially the new hires, to read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'd like to recommend this book to anyone in the field or anyone with a relative that is a dispatcher/911 operator. For those of use whose job this describes it's a humorous story and nice to know we're not alone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just read this book and it was like I was reading about myself. If you want to know what it takes to be a 911 Dispatcher then you need to read this book. All about the ups and downs of the worlds second most stressfull job. You will enjoy it
Guest More than 1 year ago
It contains about the same amount of factual information. The true story here is one of sour grapes and the author not finding her place in this field either. True: It takes a tough-skinned person with alot of common sense and quick thinking to do this job. False: Dispatchers are a pack of uncaring wolves. They take on this HUGE responsibility because they want to help people. The pen is a powerful tool for revenge and it's sad the author uses it that way. Signed, A 911 Dispatcher at the depicted center