911 operators recall working night of riot ‘absolute chaos’

VIDEO: 911 operators recall working night of riot ‘absolute chaos’

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County 911 operators who worked the night of the riot on upper King Street say they had their hands full fielding the calls.

“Chaotic,” operator Elizabeth Tetor said.

“Chaos, absolutely chaos,” operator Sara Schmenk said.

A still photo from video showing a Charleston police car's interior being lit on fire during riots this past weekend.
A still photo from video showing a Charleston police car's interior being lit on fire during riots this past weekend. (Source: Raphael James)

Both worked inside the Consolidated Dispatch Center on May 30. Schmenk says she had already worked a day shift when dispatch sent out a page asking anyone who can help to come back into work.

“At that point it was alright it’s go time, so I came back in, I got in about 10 o’clock and stayed till about midnight,” Schmenk said.

The operators had to deal with calls from from angry and frightened people who were caught in the middle of the riot. Several cursed on the phone, saying there weren’t any police around. The call takers say they were not offended by the cursing.

“Not really because I mean you could tell they’re scared and that’s why they’re angry and they have a right to be, it was a bad night,” Tetor said.

Rioters left a path of destruction through downtown Charleston on May 30.
Rioters left a path of destruction through downtown Charleston on May 30. (Source: Provided)

“Every 911 call we ever get is somebody’s worst day of their lives, every single time we pick up that phone, that night maybe more so than any night we’ve had,” Schmenk said.”

The operators are trained to stay calm during every call and the night of the riot is no exception.

“And there were a handful of calls that I tried to stay on with as long as I could to make sure that they could get themselves to safety before disconnecting, letting them know we will get help to you as soon as possible,” Schmenk said.

Charleston County spokesperson Kelsey Barlow says 911 operators get eight to 10 weeks of classroom training then sits with a trainer for about 35 shifts with a trainer before being released to work on their own.

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