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Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat Paperback – September 15, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From 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 Salpini, formerly at TASIS-The American School in England
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Borealis Books; 1 edition (September 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0873516028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0873516020
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #520,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Peter Orlowicz on October 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Having worked as a 911 dispatcher, I cannot say enough good things about Ms. Burau's book. It is difficult to put into words what the job is like, the sorts of feelings and experiences dispatchers get, and Ms. Burau does an amazing job of explaining it. I found myself nodding in agreement (or laughing out loud,) seeing my own experiences in the events she narrates.

By no means is her account a whitewash or festival of warm fuzzies; some of the events she describes (and her and other dispatchers' reactions to those events) may be shocking or disturbing to those who haven't been there. This doesn't make those events or reactions any less real, or any less common in other police departments or dispatch centers.

Dispatchers are sometimes overlooked in the organization of police departments; many people assume the person they speak to on the other end of 911 is a police officer. Ms. Burau does an exceedingly good job of opening up this sub-society. Highly recommended, both for laypersons outside the field who want to understand what it's like in a 911 comm center, and for dispatchers who want a mostly humorous, sympathetic look at what we choose to do for a living. This is the best written account of 911 dispatching I've read.
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Format: Hardcover
This was one of those "staff picks" at the library that catches your eye as you're trying to check out the books you *did* come in for... Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau. Since it was relatively short and had a sufficiently quirky premise, I picked it up. It turned out to be one of the more entertaining reads I had this year.

Contents:
What It's Like; Destiny, or Something; On-the-Job Training; Joe Wilson; Power Phones; Lily; Good Neighbors; Friends in High Places; Anniversary; Jurisdiction; My Marsha; Kristen; Coppers; Hostages; Smucked; On the Night Shift; That Loving Feeling; Just Too Silly; changes; Words; On Burnout; The Parenting Option; On Wannabes; DOA; The Job; Retirement; Wherever You Go; Full Circle; Acknowledgements

Burau has led a far different life than most of us... She was somewhat of an outsider growing up, and ended up getting hooked on crack. This addiction, fed by her boyfriend, culminated with her doing a few days in a Florida jail when she was busted for "loitering", just moments before they were supposed to be picking up some product. She took a hard look at what she had become, and ended up going back home to start over. Her nursing career ended in college when she would get queasy over blood. Her career as a reporter wasn't working out much better. One day while following a story at the police station, she was encouraged to apply for a job as a 911 operator. Surprisingly, her drug background didn't discourage the interviewers, and she started a new life on the desk of a small-town emergency response agency.
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Format: Hardcover
I've worked for 9-1-1 since 1986 and have been in the same center since 1991 and must say this book surprised me with it's completely unvarnished look at the career of 9-1-1 dispatching. The prose is good, the content accurate, and the people genuine. If you want to know about working for 9-1-1 this book has it right.

I've read the other reviews on here and to those who gave the book 3 stars I want to point out -
1. Yes, the author does spend a lot of time on the non-emergency calls. This is an honest look at our workload and I applaud the author for not adopting a Rescue 9-1-1 type mentality where only the exciting or sexy calls make the final cut. To really get the feel for our profession you need to hear about it all or you will never understand why we ask all the frustrating questions we do when you just want us to "just get them here!"
2. Former drug addict in our line of work? This surprised me too. Where I work we are unable to hire people who have felony level crimes in the criminal history background. However, standards differ throughout the country and there are some areas where turn-over is quite high. High enough that employers are willing to accept applications from those that others wouldn't. Having said that, the author is the genuine article and regardless of her background, she's doing the job the way the rest of us do it.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I spent 1 month many years ago as a trainee dispatcher. It is very difficult and this book shows the hard work and the stamina that it takes to do this job. You are the lifeline to people of all walks of life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the story of a life that showed that the person knew that they needed to work and really didn't think initially that they would ever get the hang of it. The writing showed many of the warts that doing this kind of work can bring, but keeping up the hard work can pay off.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Any new or seasoned dispatch should read this book. You find you can relate to the characters. And the characters are similar to the ones you work with. You are not alone in the dispatch world. It reminds you to do what you love, to not give up. Everyone gets crappy calls, everyone has crappy days. Don't give up. We are the golden glue.
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