Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau

Book – Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a 911 operator, to be on the receiving end of any number of emergencies and daily life struggles, never quite knowing what that next phone call will bring?  Needing to respond clearly, quickly, without hesitation.  I can’t imagine the pressure and anxiety of worrying whether you helped someone, and especially if your help came too late.

Caroline Burau shares her experiences working as an emergency dispatch operator in Answering 911: Life in the Hot SeatWhile weaving in details from her past and personal life, Caroline composes a relatively chronological account of her work as a 911 dispatcher.  Reading the memoir, it feels as if we the readers are actually shadowing the author through her daily work.  Because of this writing approach, it’s easy to picture the dispatch center’s environment.  We see the inner workings of the center, and watch Caroline’s as she first becomes an operator through her decision to leave the job.  I appreciated that the author doesn’t try to romanticize her career as a dispatcher.  The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about this job is “Wow!  That must be really exciting and she must have a lot of crazy stories!”  Which isn’t true, as Caroline points out.  More often than not it is not emergencies that come through the phones, but day to day struggles, claims of stolen items, neighbor complaints…etc.

Caroline is honest and to the point, detailing the highs and lows of the job, it’s impact on her life, and through it all, her desire to help people.  Her writing style is informative, but not really humorous as most memoirists I tend to read.  When we are not learning about her career, readers gain insight into Caroline’s own personal thoughts/mind, encountering her inner demons, self-doubt, and desire to make a difference.