For much of Portland, July 4 means barbecues and sparklers. In the city's emergency dispatch center, it's the busiest night of the year.
Call takers and dispatchers at Portland's 911 center—which answers police, fire and medical calls for the region, not just the city—have been stretched to the limit in recent years as call volume has increased and their ranks have decreased, due to burnout and retirements. The Bureau of Emergency Communications hopes money for 13 additional dispatchers will reduce the time Portlanders wait when they call 911.
The 911 call center looms over Southeast 99th Avenue in the Lents neighborhood, across from a TriMet bus garage. Its desks can be filled by as many as 36 people taking calls and dispatching cops and firefighters.
This July 4, WW spent five evening hours at the 911 desk. These are the most interesting calls we heard.
Clarification: The emergency dispatch center also takes non-emergency calls, such as noise complaints. Not all of these calls were made to 911.
Strongest sense of déjà vu
Length of call: 2 minutes, 45 seconds
The complaint: A man says his neighbors have 30 people over, all of whom are shooting off illegal fireworks. "My dog is going crazy, there's crap on my roof, and every year I clean it," he says. "What's wrong with these people? It's like Iraq out here!"
The response: The call taker gives the information to an area officer.
Vaguest request for help
Length of call: 2 minutes, 7 seconds
The complaint: A man in Southwest Portland calls to report a woman screaming. "I can't tell, [but] I think it's connected to fireworks and very large explosions," the man says. He says the screaming has been going on for some time, intermittently. "The thought that came to my mind, I have no evidence, but it sounds like someone is in stress—either a person or an animal that is freaking out over these explosions."
The response: The call taker sends officers to check the area.
Most frightening call
Length of call: 2 minutes, 27 seconds
The complaint: A man in Northeast Portland calls to report that while he and his wife were having a dispute, he grabbed her and his hands were around her throat. "We got into an argument, and I'm honestly not sure what happened," the man reports. "I woke up and we were fighting." The wife is also on the phone at the time the man calls. "I don't think I'm injured; we've both been drinking today," the man says.
The response: The call taker tells the man to stay away from his wife—"I've got officers headed that way. Stay away from her if she comes back; go to another room."
Best holiday party
Length of call: 3 minutes, 19 seconds
The complaint: A woman in Southeast Portland calls to file a noise complaint against the kids throwing a party next door. "Now they are singing 'Happy Birthday,' those loud bastards!" she says. "I feel so old right now." The woman says Britney Spears is playing and says if it were Beyoncé, she'd "rock that shit, but it's Britney Spears."
The response: The call taker says Britney Spears is a universal language, but anything past "Toxic" is bad. The call taker let's the woman know that her complaint has been filed.
Most bizarre call
Length of call: 7 minutes, 30 seconds
The complaint: A man was praying at a mosque off Northeast Glisan Street when he says a white man came in wearing a mask. The intruder said, "I want it shut down." The man says the suspect has left the scene but people inside are scared: "We have to protect our families, maybe something might happen, we don't know."
The response: The call taker cannot understand the man's thick accent, and offers him the option of a translator. "He's violating the mosque," the man replies, "why can't you understand?" The call taker turns the volume up on her headset and tells the man that a sergeant and two police vehicles are on the way to the mosque.
Dumbest request for 911
Length of call: 12 seconds
The complaint: "Some guy is hanging out in front of my store, but it looks like he's leaving so never mind."
The response: "All right, thank you."
Number of calls about illegal fireworks between 8:30 pm and midnight on July 4: 156
Average wait time for 911 calls on July 4: 3.66 seconds