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Retired San Diego 911 Operator Writes About Handling Emergencies, Large And Small

April 7, 2014 1:18 p.m.


Lucia Tulumello, Author, 9-1-1 What's Your Emergency?

Related Story: Retired San Diego 911 Operator Writes About Handling Emergencies, Large And Small


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Thanks to smart phones and caller ID, when you pick up the phone these days usually know who is calling you, but for nineteen years working with the San Diego Police Department, the next guests never knew who was on the other and of the line or what they needed to hear even if they would be alive for the end of the call. The Sierra worked as a 911 dispatcher, usually with the unsung heroes of our 911 system. She details her status, strangest and weirdest calls check audio, welcome to the program. I think many people are familiar with the phrase, 911, what is your emergency? They listen to calls in the media, when you hear one of these calls in a news report, would you listen for?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: I enjoy listening to them like everyone else but when I tend to do is critique the dispatcher, I will listen to the question she is asking how she is interacting with the collar and how I think I would handle the call and that is a great call, I will learn from it and then if it could've gone better, I can cringe but it tends to reflect on all of the dispatchers, and those of the calls that tend to get on the news, and most dispatchers are really doing a fantastic job.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you think that the public understands what East dispatcher has to do with the 911 call?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: I don't think so, I think they know to call 911 but as far as what they need, I don't think so. Basic information, where the emergency is happening, and if they can give us as much information to the dispatcher, it helps us for the safety of their any weapons involved, if the person has any history of mental illness or the school distractions, anything that would help, as the officers drove out there.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, what is one of your main goals answering the phone is a 911 dispatcher? Is it to calm the present the other end, to provide as much information to law enforcement, all of the above?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: All of the above, but to get the information as quickly as possible to get it the officers and safety is a main priority, safety for the collar, for everyone involved and for officers.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How did you become a 911 dispatcher?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: I worked twenty-six years of the police to permit so I was in homicide when I transferred over to the medications, but as far as if someone from the outside wanted to be a dispatcher they would just go down to the city is now downtown and they would take a critical test, and if they pass that they may have a background check and a polygraph, in their entered by a panel of supervisors and references are checked.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why did you want to become 911 dispatcher?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: Like I said, I was working in homicide and eight supervised staff for three years and after a while I wanted to be able to help people and really be able to on a basis to do something where is making a difference and that's why I transferred.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of training do get?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: There are basic eight weeks of training and a classroom setting and then you go to the floor and you have a trainer with you through the rest of the time and then, other than that there's ongoing mandatory classes that you take throughout the year.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It seems to me that it would be so frightening in a way to answer those calls especially in the beginning, were you afraid that you're going to make mistakes?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: If you said I wanted to do the best job I can and will do whatever I can to help, after a while to get to relax a little bit, but like my first call it's the right of passage twenty get that first call and my first hot call happens to be a break-in, someone was breaking into a house down the street and a neighbor was hauling in, and I realize that the house being broken into was my neighbor down the street, so that really made the adrenaline because the more, but you get used to it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow, looks the story in your books, 911 was your emergency, they range from tumors to heartbreaking, kiwi from our from your book but one of your more memorable calls?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: Sure, this was most memorable to me because I was able to really help out a little more than I normally would, and I paid for it, one day of Vietnam veteran called new and 911 his very distraught and had thoughts of committing suicide, I told will get officers out there to help them and while we waited for the officers to get their estate am aligned with them and we talked. He expressed his disappointment with the system, he said he was proud to serve our country but when he needed help no one seemed to care, and he cannot get any help and he was homeless and had no family in San Diego, he had no job, and there is a job waiting for him in Oregon but he had no money to get up there, so it was not asking for a handout nor asking for something for nothing, he just wanted to know that her country care and isn't like he was let down. So, the officers got on scene and transported him to County mental health facility where he was placed on a 7072 hour voluntary hold, I felt so bad for this veteran who had served our country was willing to lay down his life for our freedom, and he felt like his country turned his back on him when he needed help, twenty was done with my shift they went to the bus station and bought him a one-way ticket to Oregon and I went to see him and left the bus ticket with the receptionist and asked her to give it to him, and that people do care, and thank you for your service. And a few weeks later he sent a postcard to communications and thanking the officers who had transported him and thanking me for the ticket, and he said that he was doing really well in Oregon and I hope he is still doing well, it was nice to have positive outcome that could have been tragic.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is Lucia Tulumello reading from her book What is your Emergency, and it you have several stories of people calling in because they are saying that they are just about to commit suicide, and some of them have positive endings and some of them are quite tragic in your book

LUCIA TULUMELLO: Yes, that is what is part of the roller coaster of emotions that are dispatcher will feel, and to collect this I feel about and another call I had of the old woman, a thirty-year-old woman who called and she had a shotgun and she was threatening to kill herself and I tried everything I could to let her know, she had a child, a daughter and I tried everything I could, to let her know that her daughter needed her and as the doctors got there, she hung the phone and I was hoping that she changed her mind and she did not.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How you get over something like that?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: It is not easy, it's part of the job but you have to learn to leave it at work, and that's why I had my children, I went home and raise my children and I blessed every day that my life was, I was thankful for things in my life and there are some calls that will stay with you forever. And you don't forget your

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are some crazy calls to, people calling up to find out when the Chargers game starts? What is that?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: It's crazy, you can't make this stuff up, there's a woman I called and she was calling in a crime and dispatcher started asking the normal questions, and she said I think use Presbytery. The code that usually doesn't show. You never know as a 911 dispatcher if the next call is going to be life or death situation or somebody asking for recipe for brownies?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: It that's crazy the roller coaster of emotions because we take as many RC causes 911 calls, one call can be a devastating call where there has been a murder or someone dies and the very next call is someone complaining about a loud party, so going back and forth, it it's very hard and sometimes you to switch gears.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's pretty unusual for someone to be a dispatcher as long as you, for nineteen years? Isn't that unusual?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: There is very high turnover and indications because, is not something for everybody, you have to really want to do it. There is shift work that can be hardly have families and some people are just not, it's something that they don't want to do. We have a lot of turnover but you have to want to be a help people and I enjoyed it, I loved it and in fact have been retired for four years I miss the calls.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Every call is taped and could be used in trial, could be as we've been speaking about you used in a news report because it is part of a high-profile case, that must add to the stress.

LUCIA TULUMELLO: It does, because you realize that any call that you take could end up on the six Clinton news and it can be very stressful. Knowing that you could be scrutinized. Go how do you deal with that? Do you take refresher courses? Do managers come by and review what you've been doing and saying? Is it a constant try to update your skills?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: Anything that needs improving, if there is terrorism or adult abuse, anything that you not need to know about, and yet keep in mind you want to do that just the best job you can.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what is the relationship between dispatchers and officers on the scene? Do you get along well? Do you feel a lot of pressure from officers for more information you don't have because the other person has not given to you?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: I was in the phone room, I was not in the radio room but I think there's a real camaraderie between officers and dispatchers, I think everybody knows that is more like a family.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You self published your first book, why was it important for you to write it?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: It was always on my bucket list and people told me I should read of write a book and I told them I was it dispatcher allows on a breakout right stuff down so to keep it accurate and think this stuff is fun, you can't make this up, so I decided that I would write the book and in the back of my mind I was darkness with this cancer in August and they went ahead and stick to it and finished the book.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the reaction so far?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: It has been fantastic so far, I am amazed how many people are interested in it and Jim Wilkins wrote a beautiful fund page article last week and they are asking to speak at different luncheons, I'm enjoying the ride. It's great.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is great, when you think about what you have had to deal with as a 911 dispatcher, you've heard so much about the dark and desperate side of life. Did it change your outlook about people, or on life, having to deal with all of that?

LUCIA TULUMELLO: When you hear it ten hours a day, all your hearing is people who are in desperate hours, desperate states, and you do appreciate what you have. I would always go home feeling really last but also, I think that San Diego is a very wonderful city, I think that the people are great. They always are there to help.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Lucia Tulumello, her book 911, What's your Emergency is available on Amazon. Thank you so much.