My favorite scanner calls

I’m a pretty avid police scanner listener. Over time, I’ve found that my favorite things to listen to aren’t always the serious incidents, but the downright bizarre ones, which are often for comparatively minor things.

The Lowell Goat


I never did figure out what happened, but a call went out dispatched like this:

See the caller at (redacted). She states that she keeps finding knives in her yard and would like to talk to someone about it.

I feel like I’d want to talk to the police about that, too.

Le Pigeon

Here is how I described this as I heard it on the scanner:

The police are now off on a call for “a man who squished a pigeon and ate it.” The caller said she worried this would be disturbing to children being dismissed from school in the area. The officer on scene has just requested backup. And animal control. And an ambulance. I am so very intrigued.

Chimney fire

I suspect this is far from an isolated incident, but a call went out in the town I grew up in for a neighbor who called 9-1-1 to report that his neighbor was having a chimney fire.

The fire department arrived to find a confused homeowner, and ascertained that there was not, in fact, a chimney fire. Instead, the neighbor saw smoke coming from a woodstove’s chimney and, for some reason, assumed it was a chimney fire.

Possible fire

While the fire department responds to every call as if it’s a real fire, I’ve sort of developed a mental hierarchy of the different ways calls are dispatched. From least-serious to most serious:

  1. “Central station alarm” (a “still alarm” in some other towns): a fire alarm went off and the fire department responds. I’ve heard that literally 99% of these are false alarms.
  2. A caller reporting “smoke in the building,” which has a much greater chance of being an actual incident. Not necessarily a full-blown fire, but the “smoke in the building” call gives reason to believe that it’s not an entirely errant alarm activation. Sometimes it’s a neighbor smelling smoke that turns out to be someone’s burnt lasagna on the stove, though.
  3. Working fire. There is, in fact, a fire in the building.

But one day, I heard a call go out for people in a store or restaurant reporting a “possible fire.” That one confused me, because I tend to think that a building is either on fire or isn’t. “Smoke in the building” represent uncertainty, but you also know why they think there’s fire—because they see/smell smoke. “Possible fire” conveys little information.

Then, this update from dispatch:

Caller is reporting some sort of flames on the piping area.

So, if there are flames, it’s not really a “possible fire,” so much as a fire, right?

But what on earth does “some sort of flames” mean? And what is a “piping area”?

I feel like that could mean anything, from a candle next to a water spigot to flames shooting out of the natural gas line into the building.

Soon, we had our answer… There was a small mulch fire in front of the building.

Smoke in the building

Remember the “smoke in the building” above, and how I mentioned that sometimes it indicates a serious problem, but sometimes it’s erroneous?

A call went out for someone reporting “heavy smoke coming from the building.” My ears perked up; that doesn’t sound like your run of the mill burnt food call.

Firefighters arrived, and the initial sizeup was that there was no smoke (or fire) showing, and then a note that the alarms were not sounding. They investigated, and could not find any indication at all of a fire.

And then they noticed several dryers in the laundry room venting properly outside, resulting in lots of steam/vapor coming from the pipe. The “heavy smoke” coming from the building was, in fact, dryer exhaust.

Bridge jumper

Another weird call went out for a jumper up on a bridge in the area. Police and paramedics were dispatched, and the fire department was sent and asked to bring water-rescue equipment as a precaution.

On arrival, no one was up on the bridge, so the fire department began an immediate water search, and police and EMTs helped scan for bodies in the water. Police found no witnesses of anyone jumping.

Dispatch eventually made contact with the caller, to try to get more information. He explained that he had seen someone walking across the bridge while he drove past, and couldn’t give any explanation of why he thought the person was going to jump. They called the search off.


A lot of medical calls are really dull scanner listening. And then, this:

The caller just called 911 and stated that he had no pulse, and had brought himself back to life.

Your guess is as good as mine.

An issue with the paperboy

I heard the police dispatched to a home “for an issue the caller is having with the paper boy. I’m also dispatching [an ambulance]… He’s worked himself up so much he’s having trouble breathing.”

The EMS call went out as “a male patient who called 911 worked up about the paperboy… That’s exactly how we got the call from the police.”

I have no idea what the conclusion was on this one.


This is an old one, but the police were dispatched to some address for “an ongoing neighbor issue… The latest is that they touched [the caller’s] wreath.” The dispatchers are very professional, but you could detect some irritation in the dispatcher’s voice on this one.

Strange Call of the Day

As the massive thunderstorm came in, I flipped on the scanner to listen to local public safety, as there are often interesting things going on.

I don’t know the background, but here’s what I heard:

“Engines 2 and 3, you can cancel… The caller stated that he thought he had been struck by lightning, but he has not.”

I think that’s when you need an officer and an ambulance to respond for, as the Boston PD would call it, “a psych eval.”

Edit: These people tie with the people who called in a “past lighting strike” to report that they’d had a lightning strike in their yard earlier… They stated that their bugzapper, on their propane tank, had been struck earlier and exploded. I’m slightly confused about how their bugzapper got struck (maybe it was mounted to a tall tree, and the plug provided a nice ground?), more confused about why they thought it was a good idea to keep their bugzapper next to their propane tank, and most confused about why their home hasn’t been replaced by a large crater.

Police Call of the Day

I recently came across our digital scanner, which I updated with a newer DSP firmware, and I dug up some good batteries. I’ve been keeping it on fairly often, and have to say that I’m glad I have.

I think I kind of got accustomed to the Waltham/Boston scene, where it wasn’t that uncommon to hear officers being dispatched to a shooting or a carjacking or similar. I did hear an awfully exciting call Sunday (?) night, in which an officer was dispatched to an alarm activation (very routine: it seems like there are constant false activations), and reported that there was a hole cut in the back door with a torch and the smell of the torch was still in the air. Basically every officer high-tailed it over there, and they surrounded the building while waiting for State Police to bring in a dog to search the building… Turned out that they’d already left, though. (Without stealing anything, though I didn’t find that out until I saw it on the news the next evening.)

But more often than not, the calls are laughably mundane. So the highlights for today and yesterday:

  • Yesterday: “I’ll be off with three males… having an altercation over, uhh… a baseball cap.”
  • Today, I only caught the tail end of it, but it was a dispatcher giving out a call: “regarding some fake swans on her property… in her way.”

The best part is that you can tell they’re trying their hardest to remain serious, as if they’re pausing trying to find a way to make the call not sound laughably unimportant.