'There is no room for error': 911 call center workers share their emergency call experiences

- At 5,000 calls a day, the Prince George’s County 911 call center is the third busiest in the country.

“I have calls that still are with me,” said Myesha Fair, a 911 call taker. “That call stuck with me for a couple of weeks. That’s all I could think about. I can’t even tell you about the rest of my day.”

On any given day, someone’s life on the other end of the phone is on the line.

"It's very hard going not knowing exactly what is going on because you can’t see,” said Fair. “You are going based on what someone is telling you. They are crying, screaming and panicking. That doesn’t help you.”

"There is no room for error at all,” said 911 dispatcher Venecia Collins. “None.”

Back on Nov. 15, a fire broke out at a home in Temple Hills. Collins is the dispatcher for this emergency call.

Collins: “Engine 23. There is going to be two people trapped inside the home. A female in a wheelchair. They are trying to find the location and a male who is the second person inside the home.”

Fair takes the 911 call.

Fair: “Prince George’s County 911. What is the location of your emergency?”

911 caller: “Hi. Hi, yes can someone come … Yes, can somebody please come to this address … There’s a house on fire.”

Collins is reading her notes as they come in live on a computer screen and relaying it to first responders.

Collins: “There’s someone trying to break the window out close to the driveway to get out of the home.”

Firefighter: “Copy. Copy, 29 making entry to the Delta side.”

"I have to make sure that I give them every single detail,” said Collins.

At this moment, it is life or death.

"The only thing they have to go by is what you tell them,” Collins said. “They don't have a computer sitting in front of them.”

“Getting that explicit information like we were getting that particular day is obviously a testament to the call taker and dispatchers," said Prince George’s County firefighter Richard Riley.

Riley was the first firefighter to arrive on Lorraine Drive in Temple Hills while neighbors watched helplessly as a son rushed into the burning home to save his wheelchair-bound mother.

The adrenaline and the determination to save lives is instinctive for first responders.

"They go in and then they bring her out and she is in the front yard,” Collins described. “That was a big relief. And then I reminded them that there was a second victim.”

Collins to firefighters: “You did copy there were two people reported trapped, correct?”

“They went back in, they found him, they brought him out,” Collins told us. “I knew I did my job.”

But for these two women who took this tragic call last November, there is a part of the job that is always a question mark – what happens after the call ends?

“Wondering if they made it,” said Fair. “I knew they made it out the house, but did they make it out the hospital?”

 “I can’t tell you how many times I have cried all the way home,” said Collins. "The person calling 911, it could be the worse day of their life and we have to understand that and we have to treat them with dignity and respect. But the bad thing is we never, ever get closure and that is very, very hard."

These 911 call takers and dispatchers said these calls never get easier. 

Unfortunately in this fire in Temple Hills, the first responders did everything they could. However, both the son and his mother died at the hospital.

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