Monday, February 6, 2012

911, What Is Your Emergency? ( And PS. I May Tell The World)

I’ll never forget the night I dialed 911.  A fire raged in my neighbor’s garage and I stood at our fence holding a garden hose with the force of a sloppy drool.  After (seemingly) hours of waiting for firemen, the operator said I’d been on the line a mere 4 minutes.  Seconds later, I heard sirens.  Moments later, the fire was contained.  Though a few homes had damage, luckily mine did not.  More importantly, no one was injured, and I had survived one of the most terrifying moments of my life thus far.

I am unsure of what brought about my fascination with 911 calls.  My mother was an emergency room nurse and my father was a paramedic before owning his own ambulance company, so I have always assumed it’s in my blood.  But I can't help but wonder, is it in yours too?

My Dad giving CPR, long before I was born

In July of 2011, I read the tragic news of Olympic Medalist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson’s suicide in the remote woods of Utah.  17 months after the skier took home a silver medal, he took his own life.  Moments prior, Peterson made a 911 call notifying officials of where they could find his body.  TMZ posted the recorded call on their website, and I made the much regretted decision to listen.

The comment section on TMZ is often even more fascinating than the news itself, and this was no exception.  I scrolled and read as numerous strangers sent condolences to his family and speculated how a life so accomplished could take such a turn.  What I failed to see though, until now, was outrage over the fact that 911 calls may be released to the public.

More recently, a friend of Demi Moore phoned 911 when the actress began convulsing after smoking an “unidentified substance”.  Once the call was released, several celebrities (including George Clooney & Kim Kardashian) shared their shock over the invasion of privacy and exploitation of this life-threatening event for media promotion.  Sure, it took a near Mrs. Kutcher (for now) overdose to bring it up, but the issue was finally receiving some much-needed attention.

When I listened to the agony in Jeret Peterson's last words, I heard heartbreak.  When I listened to Demi’s call, I heard the familiar “cha-ching” of a cash register.  What I have yet to hear though, apart from television ratings and magazine sales, is the benefit of broadcasting either.

Some may argue that to share these stories helps highlight and educate about the risks associated with dangerous behaviors, and I agree.  In a way, this is reality television in it's truest form.  Still, I wonder how 911 audio recordings contribute to the lesson.

Many times in my professional career I have wondered where to draw the line between entertainment and endangerment.  This issue certainly makes us question if and when a private life may rightfully become public.  But more importantly, it should make us question our OWN privacy, and what we can do to protect it. 

Really think about it...  I guarantee you don’t want the next 911 call made public, heaven forbid, to be yours.