911 Call Center Deals With Frivolous Calls

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MADISON, Wis. --

Dialing 911 is the place people can turn to in an emergency, but many calls come into the Dane County 911 Center that aren't emergencies at all.

When call-takers are dealing with frivolous calls, lives can be put at risk.

"I'd say at least 10 calls an hour that probably are not really 911-appropriate during our really peak times," said Lisa Hayes, a 911 dispatcher with seven years of experience on the job.

Hayes said sometimes the calls can be outrageous.

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    : Somebody is putting Vaseline on me and my neighbor's door. I don't even want to touch my door.

In his 20 years taking 911 calls, Todd Meister said that he has heard everything.

"(The caller) was doing laundry and he called to see if he should use hot water or cold water," Meister said. "I mean, it's all kinds of stuff: How to get to East Towne (Mall)? When does the parade start? What is bar time for daylight saving time?"

Those aren't the only kinds of questions call-takers field.

    <li >Dispatcher: Dane County Communications. <li >Caller: Hi there, I'm out hunting today and I have a question that has to do with the DNR, and I don't know how to get a hold of a warden.

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When calls like those come in on emergency 911 lines, people calling with real emergencies can end up waiting.

"They're having chest pains, that's an emergency. And if we tie up those lines with clerical-type calls, you know, what's the number to records? What's the number to the jail? You could be tying up that line for someone who is really having an emergency,” said Hayes.

John Dejung, director of the Dane County Public Safety Communications Center, said he stresses, if you are in doubt, call 911.

"If you think you need police, fire, or ambulance response, call 911," Dejung said.

"I wish some of these people would stop and think. If it's your mother, your father, your child that needs help, do you really want the people that are going to provide that help to be tied up on frivolous calls?" Meister said.

The veteran dispatcher has even been asked for Thanksgiving turkey tips -- a call that clearly does not need to come in to 911.

Misdials and so-called "pocket dials" -- when a cell phone accidentally calls 911 -- are also common in the center, dispatchers said. They said callers are urged to stay on the phone and clear up the issue even if there isn't an emergency. By hanging up, the dispatcher has to call back, taking up more time when crucial emergencies can be happening elsewhere.