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Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  1,030 ratings  ·  147 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 216 pages
Published August 1st 2006 by Borealis Books (first published 2006)
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Petra X's driving in a Mustang GT to Key West
This book went nowhere. It started off promisingly enough - a crack addict trains to be a nurse, leaves that becomes a newspaper reporter (and says she would never win the Pulitzer prize, too right) and then a 911 operative. This journey was quite interesting but it never developed. It was just 'we did this', 'my husband did that' and mysteriously, she adopts his 9 year old daughter as her own after having said that she never knew what to say or do with her and seems to have very little interest ...more
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Good things happen, I remind myself often. It's just that nobody calls 911 to tell us about it when it does." -- the author, page 142

Brisk, opinionated and informative little memoir that serves as a good companion piece to Michael Perry's Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time (and Perry, a fellow Minnesota native like Burau, appropriately provides a complimentary back cover blurb here) about the author's rookie years as a 911 dispatcher for the police / fire / EMS services
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It has been a year since I read this book, I think I'll have to put it back on my list of books to re-read now that I have anothter year of dispatching under my belt.

Overall I think she hit the nail on the head describing what life in the dispatcher's seat is like. The most enlightening quote in the book came on page 4: "I'll figure out how to make you understand what it's like to be staring at a crossword puzzle and trying to think of a six-letter word for 'run rapidly' one minute, and the next
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2012
As a 911 dispatcher, I loved this book. It was nice to read some of the things that I have felt throughout my years working this job put into words. I found my self nodding or laughing at the similarities. I skimmed over previous reviews that mentioned how cynical the writer was, however, until you sit in that chair and field all of those calls, which was the point of the book, you can't understand that skewed vision and sense of people and the world around you we see.
I loved the descriptions
Jan 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
this book was really awful. it was relatively short, and turned into so-bad-its-good every once in a while, so i was able to actually get through all of it. i'm glad i did because some of the best of the worst shit was in the last few chapters.

it became very clear early on in the book that this woman very likely has borderline personality disorder, which is probably not uncommon in a job like this. she is also the kind of person who thinks that the phrase "wherever you go, there you are" is pro
Nov 28, 2014 rated it liked it
NOTE - This book was poorly edited and there are countless spelling mistakes and errors.

NOTE - This book really could have only been 156 pages long the last 47 pages were not really crucial to the story and were more of a tirade/rant about the pros and cons of being a 911 dispatcher. I think this subject matter is demonstrated clearly in the stories and encounters the author shares with the readers.

At first when I started reading this book I was thinking of changing careers and that this was som
May 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All 911 dispatchers
Recommended to Lmcn by: Found on the internet
I am a fairly new 911 Dispatcher (4 yrs) and was really, really searching for some insight and inspiration. I absolutely loved this book and wished that this writer would do more. I felt like I was reading about my own dispatch centre. It helped me realize that some of the things that occur and some of the feelings I feel at work are normal...I'm not an anomaly. I have recommended this book to my other co-workers and my 911 partner read it while we worked together, we laughed so hard because it ...more
Jun 10, 2012 rated it liked it
I was a dispatcher pre-911. Different world. When I dispatched in the 1970's if someone needed the police for an emergency or for just some bull-shit, they all called on the same phone line. No big fancy computers way back then, you sort of flew by the seat of your pants, waiting for information for officers on the street that took way too long. I worked for a small department with only three or four cars on the street on a shift, and the fire department when they went out. Caroline really hit i ...more
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My career in a nutshell.

I have been in emergency communications for over 5 years now and this author couldn't have gotten the story anymore right. It's up it's down it's happy it's sad you're constantly in a state of uncertainty and constantly questioning why you still remain. I recommend reading this book of you are a telecommunicator or family of one. You may wonder why your daughters or sons or husbands or wives carry on in ways you can't understand. If you've ever wondered with anger why the
Cassandra Crenshaw
Apr 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I recommend reading this book if you have any interest at all in joining a dispatching crew. She doesn't sugar coat a thing! It's a good picture of the personality a person needs to possess to do that kind of work. It also brings insight to the struggle of separating home and work. She struggles with whether she can perform her duties effectively and up to par which is something everyone can relate to especially me. ...more
Dawn Mateo
Jul 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
GREAT book! Absolutly phenominal!! If you work in fire, police, or EMS, this is TOTALLY the book for you! I laughed out loud several time and shook my head in agreement with the author even more. Outstanding book! A great new author is on the horizon!
Jun 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This past Christmas I received a Kindle e-reader from my lovely bride. I
was anxious to utilize it during my 'slower times' at work. I was also
somewhat hesitant to get caught reading "outside reading material',
which our SOP forbids. Therefore, I checked Amazon for e-books about
dispatching. Unfortunately, books about dispatching are pretty rare and
not many have been converted into e-format. Amazon only listed one book
about dispatching, "Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat" by Caroline Burau.
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This shit was great
Oct 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009, beach-reads, memoir
I stumbled upon this book one day while browsing GoodReads, and was immediately drawn to the cover.

It was a perfect quick weekend read, and let’s face it, I’m a sucker for memoirs detailing lives more interesting and fast-paced than my own.

Of course, I assumed like most people Burau describes when they hear she is a 911 dispatcher – “Oh, you must have interesting stories.” I thought it would be neat to read a book about interesting stories, not realizing that the most “interesting” involved some
I've never worked in a 9-1-1 call center, but the emergency telecommunications field has been on the fringes of my life for many years. My husband (from whom I borrowed this book) became a 9-1-1 dispatcher back in the '90s, and I began working in law enforcement administration myself in 2005. I currently work in Records for the local Sheriff's Office, so many, many of the scenarios Burau describes in this book are familiar to me. I type them up every day. My co-workers and I have the same dark a ...more
Terri Ann
Jan 01, 2011 rated it liked it
The tales of the book are very gripping, but the rest of the book is brimming with mundane deatils (I don't need to know that her bra opened during a call and that she had to "wait to tuck the girls back in" after the call.) This book is more about the opinions of the author about the callers themselves, not the situations at hand. I was hoping that the book would be a compilation of experiences, but instead it was a snarky arrogant tale of the author's disdain for most of the callers that calle ...more
Rhiannon Johnson
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was ok

Answering 911 Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau

Caroline Burau acknowledges the general public's fascination with her job. As a 911 dispatcher she fields calls from people in danger as well dangerous people. We follow her from her first day on the job, to on-the-job training, through her rotation at multiple stations within the call center.
I empathized with her back story. She had been through drug addiction and come out on the other side. I also thought that being a 911 operator might be t
Sep 22, 2009 rated it liked it
I snagged this one while I was working a desk shift because the chair on the cover looked soooo comfortable... turns out, this slim little memoir was really engaging and engrossing! Caroline's transition from crack smoking, abused girlfriend to 911 dispatcher is bittersweet: just as she gains mastery over the hectic, oppressive atmosphere of the call center (just when DO you think they get time to vacuum a place that's occupied 24/7?) she's beginning to doubt whether she can do this job for 30 y ...more
"I quickly realize that White Bear Lake PD is every bit as short-staffed, harried, backstabbing, and marred by political, bureaucratic bullshit as the sheriff's office was. I feel at home immediately."

I finished this in one sitting. I love reading memoirs about jobs that I am most likely not capable of doing: police officer, EMT, doctor, and now 911 dispatcher. Also, it was heartening to read that the author, a former teenage runaway who smoked crack and had an abusive boyfriend, was able to get
Brooke Mills
Jun 30, 2012 rated it liked it
As a 911 dispatcher myself, this book was both encouraging and disheartening. It's nice to know that SOMEONE out there understands what I go through everyday, but it's also depressing to find that, apparently, the job is the same wherever you do it. Not the author's fault, of course! Some of the calls described were all too familiar, some over-dramatic, and I will admit that periodically, I found myself just not liking the author at all. As a whole, definitely worth my time, though, and nice to ...more
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Quite amazing, a vivid description of life on the other end of that telephone line. The plot is fast paced, the prose is witty, and while the book makes light of dark subjects, it also Elaine why, and explains why emergency workers must adopt that attitude, or face emotional breakdown. Highly recommended for anyone in emergency services, or anyone with an appreciation for the men and women who devote their lives to keeping the rest of us safe.
Sep 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book hit the nail on the head on what it is like to be a 911 Dispatcher. I laughed out loud when she was going through all the different stations and jurisdictions on who responds to what and when. That is EXACTLY how it is. It captured the human side of our profession. What we hear, how we think, how we listen to all that we hear and then go home at the end of the shift. I cannot wait to read her second book.
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
I was extremely excited to read this book, but equally disappointed when I finished. I read this book in an effort to understand why every time I call 911, the dispatcher sounds as if they don't care. Thankfully, that question was answered by the time I finished. But I was just so /bored/ by the end of the book. Too much talk about bathrooms and her coworkers. Meh. ...more
Sep 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Because I share this occupation I was immediately able to relate to the author and share the "Dispatch World." An easy read and one that didn't bore me for a minute. I've also encouraged co-workers as well as police officer friends to read as it's a true glance at the world of emergency dispatching. ...more
Holland Myers
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The best and only book of its kind I have ever seen. I teach a high school dispatcher preparation course and I read an excerpt from this book once a week. The kids love it, it is "real" and they love Caroline's wry humor and honesty. ...more
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
“Caroline Burau is a 911 operator. She uses humor and a straight forward approach in giving you a look into the life of a 911 operator. Some of these short stories are very funny, some are very disturbing and some are heartbreaking. ”
Judith Weshinskey-Price
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
A must read for anyone who has done this. She is very realistic in her description of life as a 911 dispatcher and very honest about her life.
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a fun read. Never forget 911 operators are indeed the first first responders in an emergency. They deserve a lot more. A lot more.
[3,5 stars] I like it when other people allow me a glimpse into theirs lives and jobs. This is a rather thin book and a fast one to read. Although centered around the job as a dispatchers the author also shared a lot of her live before and about her family. So while I would have preferred more stories about answering 911 I still liked the book.
Heather Cox
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book. Everyone who loves someone in dispatch.
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Caroline Burau lives and writes in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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23 likes · 6 comments
“My mind is a dangerous place to be alone without supervision.” 9 likes
“There’s a certain mentality in law enforcement that says you shouldn't be the type of person who takes things personally. If you are, you’re weak. Build a wall. I hear that one a lot. The problem is, I’m a person. And when another person calls me on the phone asking for my compassion and my help, I don’t want them to have to jump my wall to get it.” 2 likes
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