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I Answered 911 Calls For 7 Years. Here's What I Wish All Women Knew

Tamara Neal
October 18, 2015
Tamara Neal
Written by
Photo by iStock Photo
October 18, 2015

I was a Baltimore County 911 emergency communication technician for seven years. In that time, I answered thousands of calls for help in response to domestic violence assaults, stabbings, gunshot wounds, and rapes.

It was my job to take control of chaotic situations, regardless of how heart-wrenching they were. Every time I started my shift, I'd take a deep breath and prepare myself to hear the most dire, horrified pleas for help.

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On a slow day, I'd receive an emergency call every five minutes, but on a busy day, calls overflowed and a red light would flash in the middle of the room, informing operators that emergency calls were waiting.

I had approximately one minute to get essential information, from very hysterical people, in order to dispatch the appropriate response to the scene. One botched emergency call could cost someone his or her life, place me in the unemployment line, and end up on the national news.

Having a bad day at work is not an option for a 911 operator.

I took thousands of the most unthinkable, horrific, violent calls you can imagine, and most of them were related to domestic violence.

It was unbearable when I heard a terrified female caller scream, “HE HAS A GUN” and simultaneously heard shots fired. And I still remember the horrified female caller who arrived home and discovered her roommate lying in a pool of blood.

Over the years, I've learned a lot about how women can protect themselves. And I’m not just saying this professionally; years ago, I had my own terrifying experience — all because I didn't trust my gut.

I was a newly divorced young mom when, against my better instincts, I accepted a date with a man who seemed "off." When he picked me up for our date, he was quiet, which made me feel uneasy, especially because we'd been talking on the phone for the past six months.

Suddenly, we parked in front of a house where he said he'd lived with his ex-wife. He had never gone into any detail about what happened to his marriage, but now he was sitting in front of the house, with a dazed look on his face, reminiscing about how happy they had been in the beginning. I was afraid, but didn't know what to do. After about 10 minutes, we pulled away and drove to his apartment.

Shortly after we arrived, he pulled out a knife, wiped it off and began cutting meat for dinner. He had a confused look on his face, and appeared to be reliving a time when he caught his wife cheating with her ex-boyfriend. Then he told me that for years, he'd thought about finding a woman who looked like his ex and killing her.

Then he waved the cutting knife at me and said, “My ex-wife looked just like you.”

Of course, I'll never know exactly what was in his head, but at that moment I thought he wanted to kill me.

Something inside of me told me to remain calm and not show fear. I sniffed my nose and to my surprise, the man became alarmed.

“You have a cold!” he said, alarmed. “Why didn’t you tell me that you were sick? Do you want me to take you home?”

I said yes and thanked him. We rode to my house in complete silence, and I never saw him again.

I learned a lot that day about trusting my gut and dealing with strangers. From that experience, and from my time answering 911 phone calls, here's what I wish everyone understood:

Strangers should have to earn your trust.

The only thing that I should have assumed about this man before I went out with him was that I didn't know him at all. All people are different; make strangers earn your trust. Remember he is not Adam, you are not Eve, and this world is no garden of paradise.

You have to honor your intuition.

When you have a gut feeling, it's your body’s way of telling you that something is not right about the situation or someone is not being authentic. My gut told me that there was something strange about the man when we first met, but I made a conscious decision to ignore several red flags.

Take time to get to know a person in every season.

Most people are on their best behavior in the beginning. What you want is to get to know the person's authentic self. Only with time will he or she teach you everything that you need to know.

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Tamara Neal
Tamara Neal

Tamara Neal is a Certified Domestic Relationship coach and domestic violence advocate. Her experience as an emergency communication technician for the Baltimore County 911 Center gave her the authority needed to write her new book, Venomous Relationships: Learn How to Avoid Common Relationship Bloopers. Connect with Neal on