Frankly, as a 9-1-1 operator in rural Alaska, the holidays were just part and parcel of that entire surreal environment. No stranger or more stressful than any other time, but paid far more an hour. Living 400 air miles from the nearest movie theater, McDonalds or other mark of civilization strips away anything resembling ‘usual and customary’, so adjusting holidays was just another coping skill.
I was the only 9-1-1 operator in an area the size of the state of Oregon. After normal office hours, the local Alaska State Trooper post would transfer their remote village lines to my office, where I would receive calls from as far as 300 miles away. We staffed one operator per shift, with the exception of certain holidays. Since those hours paid double time and a half, and since they afforded us the rare opportunity to work with a collegue, instead of before and/or after them, we looked forward to being at work on those traditional holidays. Of course, it says something for the mindset of 9-1-1 operators that we looked forward to a 12 hour shift of what might be brutal instances of man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self and man vs. society.
Or, the narratives of conflict. And it was the nightly exposure to the worst, the most degrading, the lousiest things that people do, and call 9-1-1 about, that spun out that conflict. We sent out cops to keep people from killing each other with fish knives, medics when the cops were too late, the firetrucks when the popcorn for the tree set the house on fire, all from our front row seats, at a remove. We heard the first cry for help, or deathly silence. We had to elicit vital information from people unhinged at what was confronting them. Very few people are trained to remain aloof and observant in the face of immediate danger/tragedy. And very few of them are around to call 9-1-1. We were part of making it right, getting it better. Someone was going to have to do it. And it did have its golden moments.
Part of our database included access to Alaska DMV records. We were able to look up driving records, current license status, etc. Someone had entered a full DMV record for Santa Claus. He had an address at North Pole, all the usual data, and a regular license number. Knowing that one of the main sources of enterrtainment in town was listening to the police scanner, one of the patrol officers would take out Santa’s license number. Around 8 PM or so, he would initiate a vehicle stop, resulting in a high speed chase through town, siren wailing, calling out descriptions like one red light, no plates…until he finally got the driver pulled over and read off the licence number.
Then it was my turn. “Bravo 4, PD …10-27 returns last of Claus, first of Santa. Last known 20, North Pole.”
A pause would keep every kid in town glued to the radio waiting to hear if Santa was really going to get a ticket. Then…”PD, Bravo 4. Driver warned for excessive speed and faulty headlight. Merry Christmas, everyone!”
And that’s why I worked on holidays.
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