This call stopped a 911 operator in her tracks. And then the phone rang again.

One day on the job, Lorrie Broming took a call that gave her pause. But the call that came next pushed her beyond the phone line and into a woman's life.
Illustration by Ben Shannon.

Every day, Lorrie Broming gets calls from people in need. People who have been robbed, who've lost loved ones, who are signaling a fire. People in crisis. Broming is a 911 phone operator at the Valley Communications Center in Kent, Washington. She has tactics to leave the more stressful parts of her work behind when she goes home for the day (listening to music in the car helps). But one day, she just couldn't do that. It was the day a homeless woman called.

"She was not quite screaming, but she was just very distraught and said that somebody had taken her bike and her trailer," recounts Broming.

She just kept saying, "It's everything. Everything I own."- Lorrie Broming, 911 operator
Lorrie Broming is a 911 phone operator at the Valley Communications Center in Kent, Washington, US.
Broming says the woman had owned a small trailer, pulled by a bicycle, and that all of her belongings were in the trailer. Now she had nothing.

While the call really bothered her, Broming says a second call disturbed her even further.

"The next call I got was from another citizen who saw a woman laying on the sidewalk. And I knew who she was talking about. It was the same woman, and she was literally laying on the ground in distress from losing everything," she says.

At the time, Broming remained professional, reassuring the second caller that someone was on the way to help. But it really hit her on her drive home from work, when even her usual music therapy in the car couldn't drown out what she had heard.

I kept thinking that I was going home to my nice home, and I never had to worry about having a roof over my head, or good meals, or health care, or basic hygiene items or anything like that. It just really started eating at me.- Lorrie Broming

So Broming decided to do something about it. She called the dispatcher for that city and asked for the officer who had visited the woman to phone her, to see if there was something she could do to help. Broming was worried the weather was getting cooler, and she suspected the woman was sleeping outdoors.

The officer called, and agreed to ensure that Broming could get some supplies to the woman anonymously. Broming bought a sleeping bag, some warm clothes, a hat, gloves and a package of personal hygiene products. She also bought her some candies to cheer her up, as well as other food and water. She stuffed a backpack full of the supplies, along with a little money, and met up with the officer so he could give it to the woman.

"I felt a lot better," says Broming, though she says it probably only scratched the surface of the belongings she had lost.

What prompted Broming to act that day?

"I don't know. I just felt horrible for her."

Broming says that of the thousands of calls she takes, this one just got to her.

Regardless of how they got there, they're still a human being and they still need to survive.- Lorrie Broming

And while Broming usually compartmentalized her life, she says this one time was different.

"I feel like you're kind of drawn to people, or called by people, or called to serve when you need to. And I think she just happened to be that woman, that day."

About the producer 
Veronica Simmonds

Veronica Simmonds is a radio experimenter. Her documentaries have aired on CBC, ABC and BBC. Her radio art work has aired in a weather observatory in France, a hair dryer in Pittsburgh, and a grain silo in Norway. Her love of the internet has led her to create interactive web experiences such as Body of Water and her love of hair led her to create her podcast Braidio, where she braided hair on air. These days she works with CBC Original Podcasts, producing Sleepover with Sook-Yin Lee,  Alone: A Love Story and now, The Fridge Light. Twitter: @veesimmonds