What Happens When You Prank 911

I was writing about a baby calling 911 16 times (I know!!) over at The Stir, and it reminded me of this old column from 2005 that I never put on here. Here you go!

Sometimes “everybody makes mistakes” just isn’t the comfort you need to hear.

My first inclination was to hang up – quickly. But I realized I’d just be making it worse.

“911, what’s your emergency?” they said. My face a bright tomato red, I could barely answer them.

“Nothing, I mean, I’m sorry, I mean, I dialed the wrong number,” I wailed.

Yes, I pranked 911.

But I really didn’t mean to.

I was calling someone in Monticello.  I hit the “talk” button, then quickly pounded out the number 7-9-1-1-1 . . .  Before I could finish, the phone was ringing, and I curiously put it to my ear.

Then it hit me.

I hadn’t hit that “7” quite as hard as I’d pushed in the other numbers.

Uh-oh.

So, while I was expecting to be carrying out an interview, I was on the phone with a dispatcher at the county’s emergency control center.

“No,” I assured them, “there’s no emergency.”

“Can we confirm your address?”

Oh dear. So much for anonymous screwups.  “Yes,” I said. “I live in Callicoon Center.” And I gave out my street address.

Phew, easy enough. That could be anyone.  “And your name, ma’am.” Oh no! “Jeanne Sager,” I said sheepishly.

“Thank you,” they answered.

And that was that. But it wasn’t over for me.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve never called 911 in real life. 

Once, as a third or fourth grader, I sat through the annual fire safety week lecture by local emergency workers in the Delaware Valley gymnasium.

“Never, ever, ever use the emergency phone number as a play toy,” they warned.

Then they let us loose, sending us out to the activities lined up for the day. That included a mock emergency phone drill, but someone forgot to tell us it was all make-believe. 

Each student was instructed to sit at a telephone and make a call as though our house was on fire or our mother keeled over on the floor.

Using the old-fashioned phone, I carefully dialed the numbers – 5-8-3-7-1-0-0.

“What’s your emergency?” a familiar voice asked.

Stumbling, I made up some story about smoke pouring out of the kitchen stove.

“And what’s your address?” the voice queried. I looked around – no adult in sight. What did I do?

There was no smoke, no fire.

“Um,” I said, “I live in Callicoon.”

The “dispatcher” dragged it out of me – my name was Jeanne Eschenberg. I lived on River Road. She said
the Callicoon Fire Department was on its way, then the line went dead.

I was 8 or 9 at the time, and I was scared to death. “Oh no,” I was thinking. “I’m in so much trouble! The firemen are going to be so mad when they get to my house and there’s no fire!”

I went home that night, wracked with guilt. But there was no note on the door, no policeman waiting to lock me up.

Years later, a senior in high school, I was walking into the Delaware Valley school building after my morning internship at the Democrat office one October day.

Posted outside the gymnasium was a woman sitting next to a phone.  As the ring sounded, she picked up the receiver and spoke.

“What’s your emergency?”

Oh . . .

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Image via robinsonmay/Flickr

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