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  • Writer's pictureHarvey Brownstone

Why do an interview about 911 dispatchers?

Everyone knows that my primary focus is to interview celebrities whose careers I admire, authors whose books have moved me, and prominent professionals with something important to say about social issues. So why did I take the time to interview a 911 dispatcher? Well the answer is hinted at in the interview.

When I was 19, I came out to my parents as being gay. They took it horribly - and that is a gross understatement. I was "cut off" for 5 years - and as an only child with no one to turn to, that was a very traumatizing experience. To this day I don't really know how I got the courage and tenacity to make my way through university. Anyway, shortly after telling my parents that I was gay, I sank into a deep depression. I felt guilty that I had hurt and disappointed them so badly. I felt ashamed to be part of a despised minority. And I felt despair that I would never find a job, or have friends, or enjoy any kind of happy, positive, constructive life.

One lonely night I seriously contemplated suicide. I mean really seriously. I could not come up with a single reason to keep living. So I thought, well maybe if I called Suicide Prevention (we didn't have 911 in 1975), they could give me some reason to stay alive - and if they couldn't, then I would carry out my suicide plan. So I called. The operator said "Suicide Prevention, please hold". I waited....and waited....and waited. It seemed like forever, and as I was waiting, my emotions transitioned from profound How dare they treat me like this? I got so angry that I hung up - and decided that I had to keep living, at least long enough to make someone at Suicide Prevention know that I felt ignored and mistreated.

Well, I never bothered contacting Suicide Prevention again, but I did realize that if I had the wherewithal to feel so indignant, then I must have felt that my life had some value. Otherwise, why would I have cared if they put me on hold? I must have still had some semblance of self worth left in me. And that thought process led me to abandon my suicide plan.

Now fast forward to February 2021, when I was doing the 4-part Helen Reddy Series with Jim Keaton, the Helen Reddy Official Fan Club President. In one of our off-camera conversations, I asked him what his day job was. He told me about his long career first as a 911 dispatcher, and then as a trainer of dispatchers throughout the USA. My experience as a suicidal 19-year old came rushing back to me. It dawned on me that maybe now was the time for me to educate myself and my audience on the work of 911 dispatchers.

Jim's warmth, communication skills and empathy shine so brightly in this interview. I hope you find his comments interesting and enlightening. For me, it reinforced the fundamental truth that we are all part of a community, and that we all rely on each other to some extent, and that in our own individual ways, we can help to make the world a better place.

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