Behind-the-scenes look at what happens when you call 911

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- In the age of smart phones and speed dial, there’s really only one phone number that everyone has memorized: 911.

We all know how to call it and what happens when we do, but have you ever thought about what’s happening on the other end of the line when you make that call?

“South Metro Fire Rescue. What is the address of the emergency?”

The phrase can be heard over and over and over, tens of thousands of times per year inside MetCom, South Metro's 911 dispatch call center.

“You never know what to expect on that line,” communications manager Nathan Keller said.

The team works 24-hour shifts. They’re open every hour of the day, every day of the week, 365 days a year.

“As cliche as it sounds, I just wanted to help people and make a difference,” Keller said about his career choice.

Over the years, he has helped deliver babies, coached people through CPR and fought wildfires all from behind his headset.

“The dynamic of a dispatcher is you truly build a five-minute relationship with somebody that you’ll never ever talk to again,” he said.

MetCom covers 1,700 square miles from the foothills to Deer Trail, Denver International Airport to Douglas County.

Dispatchers rely on a 12-screen computer setup to feed them information ranging from the weather to wait times at emergency rooms.

They can see where fire trucks and ambulances are located in real time.

“Calling 911 of the old age used to be you call in, you tell them where you’re at and what’s wrong, you hang up the phone,” he said.

That is not the case anymore. But as technology has sped up, so has the expectation for dispatchers.

“Time is of the essence in 911. Seconds count. You can’t defer from that,” Keller said.

The goal for MetCom dispatchers is to have the location and nature of the emergency from the caller within 15 seconds and have a fire or paramedic crew notified within 45 seconds.

For a high-stress job, the dispatch center is relatively calm. Dispatchers say they are always trying to think ahead to make response times faster and to help paint a picture for crews responding to the call.

“Unfortunately, our business is the worst days of some people’s lives,” Keller said. “Yes, you’re calling 911 for help and we’re here to provide that help together.”

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