As an EMS worker, you’re usually on the receiving end of requests for emergency assistance. However, sooner or later, you will probably have to call 911 yourself. When it’s personal, you may find yourself in a distressed state, possibly unable to think clearly. So take a little time to learn what you can expect when and if you do need to make that call. Even if you’re on the response end of emergencies, you may not know exactly how information funnels through the system. And when you’re the one calling 911, you may not know what it’s like. You can also share this information with friends and family so they, too, can prepare for emergencies.
What to Expect When You Call 911
If you’re near a landline phone, use it. In the next section, you’ll learn why a landline provides advantages over a cell phone. If you must use a cell phone, you can use one with the screen locked or even an unactivated one. A 911 call will override these issues. Then, call if you can, rather than texting. Text services are less reliable.
As you dial, take a breath. You’re undoubtedly in a stressful situation, possibly experiencing medical trauma yourself. However, if you can remain as calm and focused as possible, you will be better able to communicate crucial details.
When the dispatcher answers, give a brief description of the situation. You don’t need to explain everything at once. Allow the dispatcher to ask questions, then answer them in as much detail as possible.
What Information to Provide
The most important piece of information you can provide is your location. This is why calling from a landline is preferable. Those calls instantly give the 911 operator the address, phone number, and name of the person associated with those. Calling from a landline also helps ensure that the call goes to the nearest dispatch center.
If you do not speak English, tell the operator right away what language you speak, and they can connect to an interpreter.
When the dispatcher receives your call, he or she will see an approximate location. They need to contact the cell phone carrier in order to a more specific location, which can cost valuable seconds.
If you’re calling from a cell phone, give the exact address if you can. Provide as much detail as you can about your location. For example, if you are inside a building, state what floor you are on or what room you are in. If you’re in the street or a parking lot, give the address of the nearest building and if you don’t know, describe it in detail.
The dispatcher will tell you what information they need. With that in mind, prepare to give your name, names or descriptions of other people involved, and details about what happened. You may remain anonymous, but remember that emergency personnel will protect your identity.
Stay on the phone and follow any instructions. If you are witnessing a crime in progress or a fire, they may instruct you to move to safety. A dispatcher may ask you to wait while they switch between calls, but stay on the line.
How Emergency Services are Notified
Remember, the dispatcher is conveying information to emergency services at the same time you are answering questions. Do not worry that saying too much will delay the response.
Dispatchers are trained to handle multiple calls at once. As they disperse information to emergency personnel, they prioritize urgency. That means, they can shift assignments among available first responders to make sure they get where they need to go as fast as possible. It also means a fire truck might arrive for a patient having a heart attack. A paramedic on board can handle a medical emergency just the same as if they arrived in an ambulance, so don’t be alarmed.
When NOT to Call 911
Educate yourself about what kinds of calls 911 handles. By calling in a non-emergency, you could tie up important services to someone in a life-or-death situation.
Do not call 911 for problems with utilities, like a burst pipe or a power outage (unless these put a person at immediate medical risk.) Do not call for emergencies related to pets. Instead, keep the number of an emergency veterinary clinic in your phone. Do not call about noisy neighbors or other nuisances (again, unless you believe someone is in danger of imminent bodily harm).
There are all sorts of outrageous reasons people have called 911. One guy in the United Kingdom called because he mistook the moon for a UFO. Some of these stories seem hilarious in hindsight but remember, these could have delayed emergency response to someone in dire need.
If you work in emergency services you well know how every second counts. Help educate your friends and family about the right way to call 911.