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Tell Me Exactly What Happened

Tell Me Exactly What Happened

Regular price $ 18.95

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Regular price $ 18.95 Sale price $ 18.95

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Dispatches from 911

Author Caroline Burau

Minnesota Historical Society Press (September 1, 2016)


Inside the world of emergency dispatch, tragedy, boredom, and mind-bending weirdness are constant companions.


I’ve helped deliver two babies. I’ve listened to countless child death scenes.
I’ve helped save lives. I’ve listened to many more of them just slip away.
I’ve watched Saturday Night Live dozens of times, but never once without interruption, and mostly on mute.
I’ve depended far too heavily on coffee and Benadryl.
I’ve worked with some of the finest, funniest, most caring jerks who’ve ever lived.

In her new book, veteran 911 operator Caroline Burau shares her on-the-job experiences at both a single-person call center (complicated by a public walk-up window) and a ground and air ambulance service. Whatever the position, the challenges for a dispatcher never end. Tragedy, boredom, and mind- bending weirdness are constant companions, as her stories — some funny, some odd, some sad — show. A “broken penis,” a case of domestic violence at the walk- up window, a tornado striking a mile away — Caroline Burau handles them all with efficiency, empathy, and humor.

But the job is not an easy one. On top of dealing with life-and-death situations every day, Burau is shaken by the suicide of a colleague. She battles stress and burnout, knowing that she is truly helping people. She also realizes that no matter how long she is in the hot seat, listening, waiting, and answering 911, she cannot help everyone. Tell Me Exactly What Happened is one woman’s memoir, but it is also a welcome companion for anyone who has needed relief from a stressful job.

Author information

Caroline Burau was born in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, where she would graduate high school, and later live and work as a 911 dispatcher. A journalism major at the University of St. Thomas, Burau wrote for small weekly newspapers until she was lured into public safety dispatching with the high hopes to save lives and make a difference. It was everything and nothing like she imagined. In 2006, she published a book about her rookie years on the job called Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat.

Burau worked for twelve years as a 911 dispatcher. Along the way, she also became a yoga instructor and honed her skills as a dogsitter and crazy cat lady. Also, if thrift-shopping was an Olympic sport, she would have at least one or two medals. She lives in a gingerbread-esque old house in St. Paul with her daughter, a little gray cat, and an old yellow dog. Visit her on Facebook.

Reviews and news

In the Media:

White Bear Lake Magazine

Minnesota Public Radio/The Thread

Star Tribune

East Side Review

Street Watch: Notes of a Paramedic

Q&A with Caroline Burau

Advance Praise:

“In my decade as a paramedic, dispatchers guided me into and, more importantly, out of thousands of dangerous situations. Burau artfully and playfully gives a face to that voice and shows us just how rewarding and taxing it is to ask that most basic but critical of questions: How can I help?”
Kevin Hazzard, author of A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back

“In this powerful memoir, Caroline Burau beautifully captures the tumultuous world of a 911 dispatcher, as she struggles to calm frantic callers, dispatch resources, and offer lifesaving instructions over the phone.”
Kevin Grange, author of Lights and Sirens: The Education of a Paramedic

“Caroline Burau takes you behind the mic in a dispatch center, dealing with multiple calls and handling complaints from caller and crews alike. Burau is an excellent writer who offers welcome insight into the world of 911 dispatch.”
Peter Canning, author of Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 192 pages
  • 5.5x8.5 inches
  • ISBN: 9781681340098

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