911: Taking Idiots’ Calls Every Day

911 Dispatcher: It’s not just a job, it’s a mental disorder.I live in a small town with a volunteer fire department. Since my husband is a firefighter, I’ve learned over time some of the ridiculous things dispatch calls engines for. (My personal favorite—recently dispatch sent an engine, a ladder truck and an ambulance because a kid got his foot stuck in the spokes of his bike.) But that was the dispatcher’s fault. All the mother did was call 911 in a panic.

Which led me to think about the reasons people do call 911. When I lived in St. Louis, my neighbor—a drug-dealing crackhead—once called the cops because he’d thought he’d been robbed. What had been stolen? His stash. I came home to a cul-de-sac full of police cars, because by the time the responding officer had arrived, he’d begun to freak out over the reason for his call.

And then came this piece from CNBC about a man who called for assistance from the Coast Guard when his stolen boat ran out of gas. So I thought “where there’s one idiot, there are more” and, sure enough, over at Mental Floss, they have a list of ten bad reasons people have called 911. Check there for the full explanation, but here I’ll cull the headlines:

  1. The Jets aren’t in Winnipeg.
  2. Your husband won’t eat his dinner.
  3. The Genius Bar is closed (and your iPhone isn’t working).
  4. That cop was “really cute.”
  5. There’s a UFO… or not.
  6. Time is going by really, really, really, really slow. 
  7. You need a ride.
  8. You’re locked in a car.
  9. You’re unhappy with your manicure.
  10. You can’t have it your way.

How about you? Any memories of ridiculous 911 calls in your life?


  1. Heather Waters (redline_)

    I remember when my brother was very young he called 911 on a dare. Gah. Our parents are police officers, so that *really* did not go over well with them; luckily, they stopped it before anyone actually came out.

    Anyway, it’s hideous to me, the way people overuse an emergency number when there are people who are really in trouble/hurt that won’t get help in time as a result.

  2. Laura K. Curtis

    Oooh, boy, redline, I bet he got in trouble for that one!

  3. Lynn Ristau

    Okay, this didn’t actually come through 911 but I got the call when I was the desk officer one afternoon: a man wanted to report his birdfeeder stolen because a bear had just taken it.

    The only way to get an officer in our city, emergency or not, between 4:30 PM and 7:30 AM is to dial 911. Unfortunately our dispatchers are not allowed any discretion and have to give [b]everything[/b] out that comes in so we get sent on some doozies at times. I just can’t think of a recent one right now!

  4. Laura K. Curtis

    LOL, Elsandra! That’s…um…quite a call. Did he mention what he hoped you would *do* about it?

  5. Lynn Ristau

    I don’t know if he thought his insurance company would replace it or that we would come out and look for it! I had to explain to him that we didn’t do reports on acts of nature and he eventually hung up on me.

  6. Matthew Spann

    In December 2012 my sister and I were swimming with turtles 50m offshore at Maui beach having the time of our lives. My father (who was 50 years old and refused to get glasses) was having trouble seeing us and incorrectly thought we were drifting out to sea. He called 911 and a fire truck full of Maui’s finest firemen as well as lifeguards were on the scene five minutes later. Epic fail as we were both fine!

  7. Clare 2e

    That’s funny, Matthew! Did he get glasses after that?

  8. Matthew Spann

    Clare, he certainly begrugingly did!

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