It was 2030 hours, or 8:30 p.m. in civilian speak, and Carly Johnson was ready for her dinner break. Saturday nights were a hot bed of activity in the City of San Varlin. And when the City was jumping, the San Varlin 9-1-1 Communications Center rolled right along with the residents on the train. Shootings, stabbings, fires, heart attacks - and anything in-between - the firefighters, cops, and paramedics went from one call to the next.
For once, Carly mused, the shift was at full staffing. When Shaneera Rosewood returned from her break, Carly could take hers. Come on woman, you are due back and I’m hungry!
The 9-1-1 line rang. Carly selected the line on the computer screen. “9-1-1, Carly speaking, what is your emergency?”
“My baby isn’t breathing! Please, please send help!” a woman screamed frantically in to the phone.
“Ma’am, what is your address?” Carly said with a calm, but firm voice.
“Uh, uh 4356, no 4357 Windmill Place, please, please get help here quick!” the woman sobbed.
Carly carefully repeated back, “Ma’am I want to make sure we have the correct address: 4357 Windmill Place, W as in William, I as in Ida, N as in Nancy, D as in dog, M as in Mary, I as in Ida, L as in Lincoln, and L as in Lincoln place? Is that a house or an apartment?”
“A house, please hurry, he’s not making any noises.”
“Ma’am I’m sending help as I’m on the line talking to you. Did you find your baby not breathing, or did the baby have an accident?”
“I found Johnny in his crib. I put him down for a nap at and I went to wake him up for his feeding, and he was cold and blue. Oh my God, what can I do until help arrives? Tell me how to do CPR.”
“I can’t ma’am, we’re not trained to do that, but a police officer will there any moment now, and the paramedics are on their way. The officer can do CPR until the fire department arrives.”
“Yes you can, 9-1-1 operators on TV always tells people what to do. I’ll put Johnny on the floor, now what?”
“Ma’am I’m very sorry, but I am unable to provide you instructions.” Carly told the distraught woman.
“You cold-hearted bitch. If my son dies it will be your fault!” The mother let out a blood-curdling scream over the phone, “Johnny! Oh my God, don’t die!”
A minute later, Carly heard a knock at the door, with an announcement, “Police department.” Sounds of movement inside the house followed then the phone was disconnected. On the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) screen, both the fire and police events updated to show units arrived.
Shaneera waltzed inside the dispatch floor, ten minutes overdue from her break.”Sorry I’m late Carly, my husband, Mike, called from the ER. He had to take our son there after Cody was knocked out when he fell from the tree house. Cody’s being kept overnight for observation.”
How could she get mad at a co-worker for being late when her son had been hurt? “No problem, Shaneera. I hope Cody will be okay.” Carly wouldn’t admit she was rattled from the last phone call. Unplugging from the console, Carly stood up, stretching her arms out and twisting her waist as she did. She felt a little pop as the tension was relieved in her back.
Passing by the supervisor’s officer, Carly nodded to Maria Perino-Hernandez, the swing shift dispatch supervisor. Entering the break room, Carly pulled out her food, a large chicken salad and low-fat carton of milk. Mechanically chewing, she tried to clear her mind of the image of a lifeless infant, his limp body a dull blue color. It’s not my fault. I put in the call right away. I can’t make the officers or paramedics drive faster than they did. We’re not Emergency Medical Dispatchers! It’s not my fault.
So why did she feel responsible?
Finishing her meal, Carly channel-surfed, unable to find any show on the television that was interesting enough to catch her attention. When her time was up, she cleaned up her dishes and walked back to dispatch. Carly relieved Jenrie Dragskanovitch on the fire channel. Jenrie threw out a quick ‘thank you’ in her unique east European accent. Two calls were still active: a car fire and the Windmill Place incident.
A hard lump formed at the bottom of Carly’s stomach. I wish I’d not eaten that salad now. An in-house line for the firefighters rang.
“Dispatch, Carly speaking.” She answered.
“Hi Carly, this is Diego with 4411. I need my times and incident number for the Windmill run.”
Carly pulled up the event on the CAD screen. She read off the times and incident number to Diego. “Diego, I took the call. The mother told me she went to wake up her baby for a feeding and found the boy unconscious and unresponsive. What happened?”
“Until the Coroner does the autopsy we can’t say for sure, but I suspect the baby aspirated on mucous. She didn’t tell you the child had been sick with a cold for over a week? The baby was asleep on his back. Unofficially, he died from complications most likely from a respiratory infection – pneumonia or bronchitis.”
“Yes, it is. Well, I need to turn in my paperwork and get back in service.”
“Sure, thanks Diego.” She hung up the line. If I had helped her, would it have made a difference? Carly stewed over the call until another medical came in. No sooner had she dispatched the call than a house fire response popped up on the screen. She was busy for the rest of her shift.
Tuesday night took forever to arrive. Carly was the first one out the door once nightshift broke out of their briefing and relieved swing shift. The drive home was short & sweet: that was an advantage of living in the city one worked in. Carly pulled in her garage, clicking the remote as she turned off the engine to her Chevy Tahoe. Too strung up to sleep, she changed in to a pair a comfortable jeans and a T-shirt.
“It’s too quiet here; I should to get a dog or cat so I don’t have to come home to an empty place.” Carly stared at her home. She had inherited one of two houses in the family, a mid-size early 70’s ranch-style home; the other went to her older brother, Devin.
Dating was next to impossible with her hours. What normal guy had Tuesdays and Wednesdays off working 1500-2300 hours? “I’m going to be stuck in swings for a while. Unless I break down and date other public safety guys, I might as well get used to being by myself for a long time. How come they didn’t warn me about the loneliness during the interview?” Deciding she couldn’t stand the silence, Carly choose to go out.
Her destination was a local bar a short distance away that she knew was frequented by cops and firefighters. At least she would be safe from potential stalkers or criminals. Picking a well-lit parking space close to the entrance, she pushed through the door.
Pink Floyd crooned Comfortably Numb on a junk box, the pool tables were all in use, and even the dart board had two guys trying to one up one another to the amusement of their friends.
Carly found an open seat at the main bar with a view of main TV. This particular watering hole tended to favor ice hockey over the other major sports, thanks to the owner, Jacques, being a former NHL player. Tonight, his old team the Canadiens was playing the Sharks. Jacques had his alma mater on the big screen and various other games on the remaining TVs.
“Whaddaya have?” Kyle, Jacque’s primary bartender, asked Carly.
“I’ll take a rum and coke on the rocks, please.” Carly answered. Kyle mixed her drink with a practiced ease, sliding across the bar surface. Carly paid for her drink, leaving the change as a tip. She nursed her cocktail, staring at the hockey game
“Who’s winning?” asked a deep baritone voice to her right.
Carly turned to see who belonged to the familiar voice. The man was a tall, muscular blonde-haired god with blue eyes. His arms were sleek with muscles; his Wicked Tinkers T-shirt fit his body well. He wore his jeans loose enough to be casual, but not too baggy as to hide a beer gut.
“Hi, I’m Henry Wynder, do you mind if I sit here? That is, if you’re not expecting somebody.”
Wynder, I know that name. Oh yeah, San Varlin firefighter Wynder! “Hi Henry, I’m Carly Johnson. Take a load off. I’m here by myself. As for the score, I’m not really sure. I don’t follow hockey – I couldn’t tell you anything about the sport other than it’s played on ice and fights break out at least once a game.”
Henry laughed, “Carly as in San Varlin Dispatcher Carly? That’s funny we’d both be in the bar at the same time. Back to your question. There are a couple of sports involving fights: martial arts, boxing, and ice hockey. Oh yeah, and soccer – although the fights tend to involve the fans, not the players. You can’t find a better crowd in a hockey bar verses a traditional sports bar.”
“One might argue the presence of cops and firefighters keeps out the troublemakers.” Carly responded.
“On the other hand, firefighters and cops are enough trouble on their without bringing in Joe Public.” Henry said with a twinkle.
Carly looked up at the screen as a red light attached to the goalie’s net flashed and the announcers voice became very excited. Jacques cursed in French.
“Looks like Jacques’ old team is going to lose this game, San Jose just pulled ahead 5 to 0 at the end of the second period.”
Carly sipped the last of her drink. “Is that bad?” she asked Henry
“Definitely, the Canadiens will need to score five goals to tie or six to win when they return for the third period. By the way the Canadiens looked as they skated off the ice; I doubt they can pull it off tonight. The Sharks already have beaten them. All San Jose has to do is keep Montreal from scoring and they win. I doubt the guys can get five pucks past Niemi to tie it up in the third period.” He gazed at Carly as she watched the different TVs, feeling lucky no other guy had hit on her before he did. “Say, would you feel like moving to a table?”
“Okay, why not?” Carly followed Henry. They spent two hours talking until she started feeling sleepy. After spending two hours comparing families, growing up in the Bay area, their jobs, and favorite vacation areas, Carly tried to stifle a yawn. It was 0200 hours: Jacques announced it was closing time. "Oh my God, it’s two o’clock already?” Carly said in mock surprise. “I had a good time, Henry, but it’s been a very long day and my eyeballs feel like lead marbles.”
“I’ll walk you to your car.” Henry offered, standing up.
Carly rose from her seat. She walked next to Henry, the decision already made to say yes if he asked to see her again.
Arriving at her automobile, Henry stopped, hesitating a moment before he spoke. “I had a nice time tonight. I wasn’t here looking to hook up with a lady, but I’m glad I met you. Would you like to go out sometime?”
“I’d like that, Henry.”
His smile was to die for, showing his white teeth and cute dimple in his left cheek. “That’s great. How about tomorrow night, dinner?”
“Okay then, four o’clock okay? I’ll pick you up. Wear something nice, not black tie, but no shorts or jeans. Oh, and I thought we’d ride the ferry over to the City.”
“It’s a date Henry, just not seafood, because I’m highly allergic to shellfish. Here,” she pulled out a notepad and wrote her address and phone number down. Ripping the piece of paper out, Carly handed it to Henry, “this is my home address and contact number.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Carly.” On impulse, he stepped in close and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. He waited while she settled in her car and drove off, his mind rolling through possible endings of their date the next day. Whistling to himself, Henry found his own car and drove him.
Her doorbell rang at 4:00 pm sharp. Carly stopped to glance at the overall effect in her full-size mirror. “You’ll do, girl.” Walking carefully, so as not to trip and fall in her 3 inch heels, Carly held her head up. Peeking through the key hole, she caught her breath. Henry was a dream in his tailored dark navy suit.
She opened the door and invited him in.
At the same time, they both exclaimed complemented each other.
“Do you mind if we get going? I made us reservations at the new steakhouse, Le Chevaliers. The ferry should get us across the Bay in plenty of time as long as we don’t dawdle; not that I’m trying to be pushy.”
“I understand. I would hate to miss out on a decent meal.” Laughing, she grabbed a warm jacket, a clutch purse, and her keys. Locking the door, she let Henry show her to his car. Carly buckled in. It was a thirty minute ride to the ferry terminal in Vallejo and an hour ride to San Francisco. A quick cab and the couple arrived at Le Chevaliers.
Carly was pleased. The restaurant served a tasty cut of meat, the boat drinks were smooth with just the right amount of liquor (enough to taste and not too much to have her three sheets to the wind after one drink), and the decadent cheesecake satisfied her sweet tooth. After dinner, Carly and Henry strolled along the wharf, on to Pier 39. Once they finished checking out the shops, the couple stopped for a drink at a café. Watching the ever present harbor seals, Carly & Henry reminisced about the ‘old days’ at work. The evening flew by. Soon it was time to return home on the last ferry for the night.
Carly liked starting her work week on Thursday. Then on Fridays, the activity increased slowly and picked up as the night rolled on; Saturdays were non-stop action. The Sundays could go either way, depending many factors including the weather, Monday holidays, sporting events, and, time of year.
This was her third shift of the week: Saturday. Carly knew she was almost done with her work week once she left on Saturday night. Finding a seat in the briefing room, she daydreamed about her date with Henry. Promising one another to keep their dating secret, they had a great time. Her memories were interrupted by Chris Glenville, the night shift supervisor who was working overtime on swing shift.
Chris ran through the memos and shift assignments. Carly was working police radio first half and phones the second. Chris dismissed the shift. Carly wasted no time taking over the radio.
“7A17 go head.”
“7A17, Mendel and 10th, blue sedan, 9SAM999 C4.”
“9B10, go ahead.”
“9B10 Whitehorse and Albany, C4 on WMA.”
“7A3, 468, 443 C1 Maple & Magnolia, 18Y2347 silver Toyota.”
“9A16 10-97 on 406a, 3145 Bridge.”
“7A3, Maple & Magnolia, the plate is 10-26, 9A4 copy enroute, 9A16 10-4.”
By the time she was relieved on the police radio channel, Carly felt exhausted. She ate her lunch, skimming through a fashion magazine. Feeling refreshed, she stepped through the door to purgatory and took a seat at a console. The activity had slowed down. The moment she plugged in to a call-taking station, a 9-1-1 request came in for a domestic disturbance.
“He’s gonna kill me!” a woman screamed over the phone. The 9-1-1 display showed she called from a cellular telephone. “You is going ta jail this time, I swear it, Bobby! You there, operator? Come get him! He slapped and hit me. I’ll show the police my bruises.” In the background, a male voice cursed at the female caller.
“Ma’am where are you at? I need the address to send the police officers.” Carly asked.
“Huh, don’t cha know where I’m at? I’m at 7623 Sand Pebble Dr, apartment 5 upstairs.”
“7623 Sand Pebble Drive, #5 upstairs, in San Varlin? I’m sending the police. Does anyone there need an ambulance?” Carly asked as she finished entering the basic call in CAD.
“Nah, I’m not hurt that bad, I’m jus tired of his shit.” The woman answered back.
“Ma’am, what’s your name?”
“Candy, I’m Candy Johnson, and his name is Bobby Wilson.”
“Candy, does Bobby have any weapons?”
“Other than his BIG MOUTH, nah.” In the background, Carly could hear the male yelling at the female reporting person. Candy set the phone down. Bobby and Candy started screaming at one another, then Candy started calling for help, claiming Bobby was hitting her again. Carly updated the call and checked the address for previous events, and found a long list of responses for domestic disturbances. These two were frequent fliers. Chances were, one or both of them, would be overnight guests in the San Varlin City B&B.
Carly kept the line open until she heard San Varlin officers arrive. She disconnected the line. “Too much drama this early in the evening.”
The phones settled down somewhat for a bit until 5:30 pm, and then the pace started to pick up again. A non-emergency line rang. Carly picked it up. A woman on the other end sounded confused, not sure what she wanted.
“Ma’am what can I help you with?” Carly asked.
“I know that voice, were you the lady that sent the ambulance when I called for my child that wasn’t breathing on Windmill Place?”
Carly hesitated. That call was over and done. “Excuse me, ma’am? What can I help you with today?”
The caller’s confusion left her voice, hesitation turning in to a cold fury in a blink of an eye. “It is you! I just you wanted to know I’m buried my baby today and it’s YOUR fault. Can you sleep at night because I can’t” Carly could hear the lady crying in the background. The woman hung up, but Carly listened to the disconnect tones for a few moments before she cleared the line.
“What was that about?” Cora Petirs, sitting next to Carly, asked. “I could hear her yelling at you about it was your fault.”
“Did you hear about the call last week where the baby died from aspiration complications? I took the 9-1-1 call. The mother blames me for the child dying because I wouldn’t tell her how to do CPR.”
“Ouch, that’s tough. We’ve never advertised we provide Emergency Medical Directions. I hate those TV shows that make it out that all PSAPs save every injured or ill person with EMD, or catch every bad guy. That’s not realistic. You sent police & fire units; what else could you have done? She doesn’t understand how the system works.”
“Thanks Cora, still, it didn’t change the outcome. Her baby is still dead and she blames me.” Carly said.
“Don’t stress over it, honey. We’ve all taken those calls. Remember rule number one and rule number two. Rule number one is people die and rule number two is you can’t change rule number one.” Cora told Carly.
“I know that. It doesn’t make me feel any better.”
The baby’s mother called back three more times that week, somehow guessing correctly and catching Carly at the right time when she was on phone rotation. Carly was starting to dread working the phones, an issue that a co-worker finally brought attention to Maria, the swing shift supervisor. The Dispatch Supervisor started to monitor Carly’s calls, just to see if the woman called back.
The mother did. The question was, how did she know Carly’s schedule?
Carly handled herself with aplomb by not being caught up in the woman’s emotions. Only after she hung up did the crack in her composure start to show how much the calls bothered her, just a little by a slight waver in her voice. Carly cussed the caller out under her breath, a new behavior, which turned the heads of her co-workers. After venting for a minute, Carly was back to her usual self.
Maria scheduled Carly to start on the fire channel and to finish her work week on the warrant channel.
Carly felt better after checking the assignment board for the shift. No phones! No crazy psycho woman calling me names or blaming me for the unfairness of the world? She relieved the day shift dispatcher with a minimal of fuss. Six calls were active in CAD, four medicals, a fire alarm, and an auto fire. Carly settled in and skimmed through the calls on the screen.
“Base, 4431 clear, engine grease fire, scene enroute quarters.”
“2241 copy, engine grease fire.” Carly acknowledged, updating the call.
“4419, code 2 Kaiser.”
“4419, copy code 2 Kaiser.”
It wasn’t two minutes after engine 4413 pulled into quarters when one of the private, firefighters only lines, rang. Carly expected it to be one of the guys on the engine wanting times from their run, but it wasn’t.
“You BITCH! God will punish you for your sin! You killed my baby…”the phone dropped as the distraught woman broke down.
Carly listened to the mother cry, her own eyes tearing up. “I’m soo sorry I couldn’t do more.” She whispered in the headset. Carly disconnected the line. Another fire line lit up. Hesitating, she selected the line.
Henry’s voice was a welcome respite. “Hi Carly, I heard you over the radio.”
Henry’s bright demeanor did the opposite of what she had hoped. Her voice trembled as she answered him.
“Hiii Hen-ry. I d-d-on’t feel like t-talking right now. I’ll send the CA-CAD event to the station pr-printer. I’m sorry.” She hung up the phone. Selecting the call, Carly hit the function key that sent a copy of the call to the fire station printer. She turned around to face a co-worker.
“Elizabeth, would you mind covering while I take a short break?”
Elizabeth started to make a joke about needing a break so quickly until she saw Carly’s tear-streaked face. “That woman again?”
“Go on, I got fire.” Elizabeth waited until Carly had left the room until she dialed Maria’s line.
Maria wasn’t happy to hear the woman had obtained the private firefighter extension. Maria took a walk to the patrol Lieutenant’s office. The harassment needed to stop. It was time the law made contact with the family of the deceased child.
Carly stood up, trying to keep from falling apart in front of her co-workers. Once she was in the bathroom, the tears fell. Her cell phone rang; she barely glanced at it, recognizing Henry’s number.
Answering the line, she held the phone up, not hiding his distress. “Henry, I’m sorry I hung up on you, but this is a bad time.”
“What is wrong? Was someone hurt or killed?”
“No, no one here.”
“Come on sweetie, tell me. Let me help you.”
“I don’t know…Last week, that baby that died. I took the call. The mother has been calling here, and, I don’t know how, but she gets me every time. She blames me for the baby’s death.”
“Carly that is crazy. Dispatch isn’t EMD trained. The call was entered for the cavalry to respond. You entered the call immediately, police and fire were dispatched right away. The first officer was in scene within two minutes of the 911 call being answered. The medics found out that the Coroner’s Report said the child had passed away long before the parent dialed 911. The outcome of that call was not your fault.”
“I’m not sure anymore, Henry.” She said with a sniffle. “If I had entered the call a few seconds sooner, maybe the baby would have made it.”
“Bullshit! That kid was cold and blue. Nothing would have revived that baby. Listen to me: he died before the family dialed the first digit. You can’t pay attention to that woman’s hateful words. She’s grieving.” He waited until Carly’s breathing quieted. “We’re both off for a couple of days and can use a break. How about we take a drive up the coast? We can spend the night – I’ll get you your own room.”
“Why would you want to spend time with a wacked out dispatcher?”
Henry tsk’d her. “Ah, stressed out maybe, but crazy? You’re not ready for a 72 hour vacation at County yet. Give me a chance; I know some beautiful beaches and peaceful forests begging to be explored near Eureka.”
“Alright, a couple days away isn’t a bad idea.” She said, “I may even leave my phone at the house.”
“That’s the spirit. I’ll go by my place and get a few items, make the reservations, and come by to pick you up. See you around ten.”
“Okay, see you then. Bye.” Carly hung up. She looked in the mirror, flinching at her red eyes and blotchy skin. She washed her face before she walked back to dispatch. Feeling embarrassed at her break-down, Carly took her position back, thanking Elizabeth for watching over fire channel. Three of the medical calls were active. Taking a deep breath, Carly resigned herself to dealing with whatever calls over through the phones.
She was lucky; the woman left her alone for the rest of the shift.
Carly and Henry had a wonderful time on their mini getaway on the California coast. She felt relaxed enough handle just about call since the Windmill incident.
Walking past the Supervisor’s office, Carly tried not to think about the family on Windmill. Please don’t call here tonight.
“Carly, would you step in to the office, please?” Maria said just inside the open door.
“Carly, I thought you’d like to know the mother of that deceased child called back yesterday. We sent an officer out to speak with her. She won’t be making any further attempts to contact you, or our Agency, any more. Her husband said they are both in counseling and don’t place the blame for their son’s death on you, or any San Varlin employee.”
Carly felt a tremendous relief. “I’m so glad to hear that, Maria. Any more calls and I was going to need some serious time off. That woman was relentless.”
Maria smiled. “I know. You can relax now, Carly. Don’t forget, the City benefits include confidential counseling. The number is posted in the break room bulletin board.”
“That’s right, I didn’t even think about the counseling; thanks, Maria.” Carly’s steps were lighter as she made her way to the Communications Center. She looked forward to her shift for the first time since the baby incident.
** License plates are product of author’s imagination and any resemblance to real plates are strictly coincidental**
Stay safe out there!