Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Huntsville, AL 9-1-1 Operators “a bunch of retards”

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, March 29, 2010

My recent conversation with a Huntsville Police Officer and a HEMSI EMT gave me some pause for thought.

They both shared some fascinating experiences, and opined about the same.

We three – the HPD officer, the HEMSI EMT, and I – are friends.

In context, our HEMSI EMT friend was relating a story about how, when sometime ago, he called 9-1-1 and informed them in detail of a particular off-duty scenario upon which he arrived and began rendering aid, the operator seemed to be mindlessly reading from, or following a script. In other words, the 9-1-1 operator didn’t listen.

My HPD friend shared an equally disappointing story, which he prefaced saying that calls would be better handled if they were made to HPD’s general number, and added that Huntsville, Alabama’s 9-1-1 operators are “a bunch of retards.”

Are you serious?,” I asked.

They both insisted they were quite serious.

I found their remarks to be fascinating, and wondered if perhaps it might have been a bad day for the 9-1-1 operators with whom they spoke. Either way, I reserved judgment, and just listened with rapt fascination. I can say, however, that I once applied for a 911 operator job. I did well on the test, have a calm demeanor, and all that jazz… but, I suppose God had other plans.

Nevertheless… yesterday late afternoon/early evening (Sunday, 29 March), I had embarked upon a brief drive heading toward a community Seder meal celebration with some friends. Seder is the Passover meal celebrated in remembrance of the miracles performed by the Almighty in the Exodus of the Hebrews from exile in Egypt, where they were enslaved.

While driving, I had a brief inkling in my imagination that I might take another route, but decided against it, and chose routing over the mountain on the Interstate.

After turning the corner at the major intersection, I saw a long line of cars proceeding in the west-bound lane – the direction of travel I needed to go. Atop the hill were the flashing red and blue lights of a HPD cruiser/patrol unit, and the right lane of the two lanes had been closed down.

Immediately, I made a U-turn and drove over the tiny median, and noticed the large, four-way intersection’s traffic lights were flashing, and drivers were attempting to regulate themselves… with partial success.

After navigating through the heavily-traveled intersection, and watching it becoming increasingly treacherous, I then reached for a cell phone, and called 9-1-1. The first time, the cellular network returned the three-tone-attention-getting recording that alerts you to a number dialed in error, or some other problem. Calling again, the call went through, and a 9-1-1 operator answered.

Nine one, one. What’s the location of your emergency?,” asked the young sounding male operator.

The intersection of Moore’s Mill Road/Highway 72 and I-565 at the foot of Chapman Mountain needs a police officer to direct traffic because the traffic lights aren’t working – they’re blinking,” I replied.

What is the problem?,” asked the operator.

The traffic lights that regulate the intersection are not working properly – they’re blinking, and an officer needs to direct traffic,” I replied.

The next question that the 9-1-1 operator asked floored me.

Sir, what color are the lights?,” he asked.

For a microsecond, I thought he was joking, making some sort of strange game show question. In my imagination came the sarcastic answer, ‘What color are the lights? They’re pink and green. What difference does it make?,’ though I said something entirely different, because I knew the situation could become deadly serious quite quickly.

Insistently, I repeated, “you need to send an officer to direct traffic because the traffic lights aren’t working.

Sir,” came the reply, “I need to know what color the lights are,” said the young male voice of the 9-1-1 operator.

Irritatedly, I reiterated, “send a police officer to direct traffic because the lights aren’t working,” and ended the call.

It was then I recalled the words of my HPD and HEMSI friends.

“… a bunch of retards.

Though I didn’t have HPD’s general number in my cell phone’s memory, I did have the Madison County Sheriff’s Office general number, which I did call, and explained the scenario with him, just as I had with the 9-1-1 operator.

We’ll send someone out that way,” said the deputy.

He understood.

Sadly, I must concur with that observation, that Huntsville, Alabama’s 9-1-1 operators are “a bunch of retards.”

This unfortunate scenario also makes wonder not only about the new hires, but the supervisors and the whole department. Have they been drug tested?

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