Minnesota Historical Society

Answering 911

$ 14.95


Life in the Hot Seat

Author Caroline Burau

Minnesota Historical Society Press (September 15, 2007)

A rookie 911 operator’s funny, empathetic, and candid account of the demanding job that changed her forever.


You answer a call from a fourteen-year-old boy asking for someone to arrest his mother, who is smoking crack in their bathroom. You talk with him until the cops arrive, making sure there are no weapons around and learning that his favorite subject in school is lunch. Five minutes later, you have to deal with someone complaining about his neighbor’s clarinet practice.

What is it like to be on the receiving end of desperate calls for help . . . every day? Caroline Burau, a former newspaper reporter and nursing student who couldn’t stand the sight of blood, takes a job as an emergency dispatcher because she likes helping people. But on-the-job training at the comm center proves to be more than she bargained for. As she adjusts to a daily life of catastrophe and comedy, domestics and drunks, cops and robbers, junk food and sarcasm, lost cats and suicides, she discovers that crisis can become routine, that coworkers can be mean—that she must continue to care and, at times, learn how to let go.

Author information

Caroline Burau is a 911 dispatch operator for the police and fire departments in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Reviews and news

Praise for Answering 911

“A witty, gritty look at life on the receiving end of our cries for help—[Bureau] proves she found her true calling.” Reader’s Digest, Editor’s Choice

“911 operators [now] have their own word laureate—Caroline Burau of White Bear Lake, Minn., whose new memoir provides an intriguing glimpse of life behind the microphone.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“[The job] has its own challenges, and Burau chronicles them with the specificity of an anthropologist and the devilishness of a stand-up comic.”
Star Tribune

“To read [Burau’s] straightforward, often funny accounts of these calls is disturbing. You feel her pulse racing, her heart pounding, her effort to be calm.”
Los Angeles Times

“Burau’s account nicely draws the reader into the world of a do-gooder stretched to the limits of her ability to help. . . .We see a perceptive mind trying to make sense of both internal and external chaos.”
City Pages

“A fascinating glimpse into the lives of the dispatchers whose job alternates between stretches of boredom and episodes of fear, stress, and chaos.”
School Library Journal

“Burau puts us in the hot seat and shows us the madness, the sadness, and the gallows humor of a profession that serves and protects in ways
we never dream.”
Michael Perry, author of Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time

“The day may come when I have to dial 911. I hope to God that the person who answers is Caroline Burau or someone like her. Funny, honest, and elegantly simple, this book left me with a sense of grace and hope.”
Alison McGhee, author of Shadow Baby, Rainlight, Was It Beautiful? and Falling Boy

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 216 pages
  • 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873516020

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