From labor and delivery to crimes in progress, dispatchers show Fox 13 the real ‘9-1-1’

Posted at 10:15 PM, Feb 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-08 09:01:43-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A frantic 9-1-1 call rings in to the Valley Emergency Communication Center (VECC), and a woman is screaming in pain.

"I'm giving birth right now,” she manages to say in between the loud yells.

“Are you able to take a deep breath for me?" The voice says on the other end of the line.

That voice, the dispatcher, stays calm and collected.

"I’m going to help you deliver your baby, OK?" the dispatcher says to the woman.

The woman’s screams become louder and longer.

"Help! Help! Help!" she cries out.

"Rest in the most comfortable position, OK?" The dispatcher tells the woman.

That was one of the first calls newly-hired dispatcher Kamrin Tarantino took during her first full day on the job answering calls without a trainer.

"It was a lot of pressure," Tarantino said, of suddenly having to guide a woman through delivering her own baby.

Dispatchers like Tarantino never know what situation they’ll get thrown into—or what kind of help they’ll need to provide before police and fire show up.

Their job field, and the stress that comes along with it, is spotlighted in the new TV show “9-1-1” on Fox. The show focuses on the intense situations dispatchers and emergency responders face on a daily basis.

But what is it really like at an actual 9-1-1 call center?

At VECC, a large room with several islands of desks is filled with ringing phones and chatter from more than a couple dozen dispatchers.

"9-1-1. What's the address of the emergency?"

"Tell me exactly what happened."

"Was anyone injured?"

"Just do not approach the person or the vehicle, okay?"

As the call-takers talk with each person, they send information to police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

They stay on the line for the several minutes it can take for help to arrive on scene.

"Our folks are the first, first responders,” VECC operations supervisor Jason Mettmann said. “They're the first voice that you hear, on the worst day of your life."

VECC takes calls for many of the cities in the Salt Lake Valley. Two other dispatch centers handle the rest—Salt Lake City and Unified Police.

At UPD dispatch, another group of dispatchers spent Friday evening taking calls about drugs, family violence, and a missing child.

"I've looked everywhere, and I'm freaking out," the mother of the missing boy says.

After the dispatcher spends several minutes asking questions and gathering information, the mother interrupts.

"Oh my gosh! I just found him,” the mother says with relief. "I just found him. He just came home."

The next call that comes in is from a 7-Eleven employee, who reports a fight with a customer over a cup. He tells the dispatcher that the customer grabbed a brand new cup, but claimed it was a refill and was asking for refill prices.

"So he's trying to leave without paying for it?" The dispatcher asks.

Arguing can be heard in the background.

"Yeah. I mean, he's trying to come and hit us,” the caller explains.

No matter the problem, dispatchers said they’re there to answer the call.

"I try to help as much as I can,” said UPD dispatch supervisor Nicole Lopez. “Help keep the person calm or paying attention, focused on what they need to be doing."

That’s exactly what you hear during Tarantino’s baby delivery call that came in last Thursday.

"You are doing a good job, OK? We have some help started,” Tarantino tells the soon-to-be mother.

She directs the woman to grab blanket or fresh towels so the woman can wrap the baby after birth, as well as a shoelace to tie the umbilical cord.

"Spread the sheet or blanket on the bed, OK?” Tarantino says.

The woman lets out a blood-curdling scream, and a baby starts crying in the background.

"Can you hear me?” Tarantino asks. “Was the baby born?"

"Yeah, he was,” the woman says. The baby boy continues crying as the woman begins to recover and paramedics arrive.

Not long after, Tarantino lets the woman go and the call ends.

"My help was done,” she said. “I did my job."

The end of the call like that can bring a bittersweet feeling.

"After that, you never really know how it goes from there. And that's kind of hard,” Tarantino said. “Sometimes you want to know what the outcome is, and you don't always get that."

But in this case, Fox 13 visited that woman and her son.

Halena White recounted what happened that day when little Emrick decided to show up two weeks before his due date.

White said she began to experience painful contractions. Her husband had gone out to run an errand, and was 20 minutes away from home. It became clear she couldn’t leave the house.

"I just jumped on the bed,” she recounted.

White then grabbed a blanket and braced for the baby.

"You just can't help but yell, during the pain,” she said. “It was helpful, though, to have somebody tell me, ‘OK, try to breathe.’ Because on my own, I had never done it before."

Thanks to a voice on the other end of the line, she delivered Emrick alone, without any complications.

"Everything turned out just beautifully," White said.

And for Tarantino, while it’s a situation she’ll certainly remember on her first day dispatching alone, it’s just one of many calls she’ll take during her career.

“It’s not an every day job, and every call is something different. It’s never the same,” she said, adding, “That’s kind of what drew me in. It’s different every day, and I get to help so many people.”