Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat

Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat

4.2 18
by Caroline Burau
     
 

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“At a pace matching the flashing lights on a 911 console, Caroline 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 heart.” 

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Overview

“At a pace matching the flashing lights on a 911 console, Caroline 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 heart.”  Michael Perry, author of Population 485 and Truck: A Love Story
 
“A witty, gritty look at life on the receiving end of our cries for help.”  Reader’s Digest (Editor’s Choice)

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

  

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Editorial Reviews

Reader's Digest
"A witty, gritty look at life on the receiving end of our cries for help - [Burau] proves she found her true calling."
"Five Things We Don't Want You to Miss," August 2006
City Pages
"Burau's account nicely draws the reader into the world of a do-gooder stretched to the limits of her ability to help at all....We see a perceptive mind trying to make sense of both internal and external chaos."
Publishers Weekly
I want to save lives, but I'm willing to settle for just not killing anybody," confides this suburban Minneapolis author about being a rookie 911 dispatch operator . In simple prose that is often crass and amateurish, Burau recounts moments of terror and incompetence among her colleagues: one dispatcher plays computer games while listening to a suicidal caller ; others send medics to the wrong address while an acid-burn victim suffers. Cynical and bitter after two years on the job, Burau has harsh words for callers who report cell phones stolen from unlocked cars; a "frequent flyer" (someone "always in crisis") who wants the police to baby-sit her kids; and a woman whose grisly trailer-home suicide is relayed by her hysterical 12-year-old daughter. Recalling her abortive attempts as nursing student, reporter for a community paper and locksmith and, in sordid detail, her addiction to crack and an abusive boyfriend, Burau has been in recovery for 11 years and has married and adopted a stepdaughter she adores but worries about failing. Although this clearly isn't her intention, Burau's honest memoir of the 911 trenches will make readers queasy about the quality of emergency service personnel in their own communities. (Aug. 15) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Burau shares her journey of becoming a 911 dispatch operator in suburban Minnesota. After trying various school and career options-nursing school didn't work out when she discovered her aversion to blood-Burau, determined to find a career in which she could help people, decided to try answering 911 calls. A former journalist, she skillfully weaves her life story into short vignettes about the calls, her coworkers, her family, her training, and her constant worrying. She pulls no punches when describing some of life's most tragic moments but softens the blow with her witty inner commentary, e.g., "When a woman called because her child had been hit by a car, my first thought was: She should call 911. Oh my God, I AM 911." Burau is endearingly human as she shares her complicated journey through life, which involves everything from overcoming a troubled youth to balancing work and family. While she may have found her calling as a 911 dispatcher, let's hope she continues with her new writing career as well. Highly recommended for public libraries and true crime/memoir collections.-Karen Sandlin Silverman, Lib. Svcs., Ctr. for Applied Research, Philadelphia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School
Burau provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the dispatchers whose job alternates between stretches of boredom and episodes of fear, stress, and chaos. Although she doesn't provide many specific stories, she conveys what it is like to answer the phone, become involved in a crisis, and maybe never learn how it was resolved. The author's path to working as a dispatcher was circuitous. In high school, she became involved with drugs and an abusive boyfriend. After a three-day jail stint, she returned home, got sober, graduated college, and found the love of her life. Inspired by a desire to help people, she studied nursing but couldn't stand the sight of blood. After a brief career as a reporter at a local paper, she applied to work as a dispatcher-a difficult, demanding job she is still not sure she is good at, much like (step)motherhood. Burau ably shows what it's like to be responsible for lives when one is miles from the emergency. This is a fast, fascinating read.
—Susan SalpiniCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

From the Publisher

 “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

"A witty, gritty look at life on the receiving end of our cries for help - [Burau] proves she found her true calling."

—Reader's Digest, "Five Things We Don't Want You to Miss," August 2006

"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."

—Michael Perry, author of Population 485

"Burau's account nicely draws the reader into the world of a do-gooder stretched to the limits of her ability to help at all....We see a perceptive mind trying to make sense of both internal and external chaos."

—City Pages

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780873516020
Publisher:
Minnesota Historical Society Press
Publication date:
09/15/2007
Edition description:
1
Pages:
216
Sales rank:
616,272
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

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

Meet the Author

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

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Answering 911 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 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.
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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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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