Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 27, 2014

Fun With 911

TRAVERSE CITY — Random whimsy sometimes pops into Leah Hornacek’s mind.

Take that early October morning when phones in the darkened Grand Traverse 911 dispatch center rang with a report of a strange traffic hazard: three or four horses running loose along Three Mile Road.

Dispatchers quickly scrambled Grand Traverse County sheriff’s deputies to wrangle the horses off the streets while Hornacek took to dispatch’s Facebook page to warn motorists. The lyrics to “Mr. Ed,” a 1960s television show that featured a talking horse, popped into her head as she typed out the post.

“We have a Deputy/Cowboy en route to speak with the animals,” she wrote. “(However), it may be difficult because: A horse is a horse, of course of course . ...”

Hornacek, 32, and her colleague Patrick Andresen, 37, are among five supervisors who write posts on Grand Traverse 911’s Facebook page, which has garnered more than 18,000 “likes,” and counting. The posts balance vital public information about serious matters like traffic crashes and weather emergencies with offbeat humor, often drawn from actual reports.

“It’s kind of contagious,” Andresen said. “It’s nice to have an outlet to share with people.”

Dispatchers spend 12-hour shifts in front of computer monitors and coordinate emergency responses with their headsets to an at-times continuous stream of stressful calls about death, suicide attempts, traffic crashes, car chases and domestic assaults.

Finding glimmers of uplifting thought and even humor can be cathartic. Sometimes it comes from a bizarre call: Michigan Dogman sightings, animals running loose in downtown Traverse City and gunshots that turn out to be acorns falling on rooftops.

“I don’t know if I could do this job if there (weren’t) some good bits and pieces and humor,” Hornacek said.

It turns out that the public appreciates it, too. Humorous Facebook posts about Halloween radio pranks, fugitives mistakenly dialing 911 and succumbing to the winter blues are awash with appreciative comments from the public; Andresen often finds these “hilarious.”

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