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How and when to call 911

Calling 911 is designed to obtain an emergency service response. All emergencies are very stressful and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Remember that 911 dispatchers (the people who receive your call, also known as call-takers) are trained to guide callers through an emergency experience. It is important to know what to expect to help alleviate stress and help make the 911 call go smoothly and get emergency help in an efficient and timely manner. Following are some guidelines related to calling 911.

  1. First and foremost, stay calm. It is easy to say but can be very difficult to maintain your composure when faced with an emergency situation. It’s important to take a deep breath and not get excited. Any situation that requires 911 is, by definition, an emergency. The dispatcher or call-taker is trained in emergency procedures and knows what needs to be done to move the call in the correct direction, quickly, and in a controlled manner.
  2. Know the location of the emergency and the number you are calling from. This information may be asked and answered several times during an emergency call. Do not get frustrated as the increased stress associated with frustration will only make completing the emergency request for service more difficult. Many 911 centers have enhanced systems that allow them to see your location on the computer screen. But they are required to confirm your location.
  3. If for some reason you are disconnected, at least emergency crews will know your location and how to call you back. Location information that may you provide includes your street address, your phone number you are calling from, and any significant land marks that my make finding your location easier for the emergency services provider.
  4. If you are in a rural location knowing cross roads to the road that you are located at may be helpful. As an example, if your house is the first house north of the intersection of Maxheimer Road and State Route 29 on the east side of the road, that information may be conveyed to the 911 call taker to facilitate an emergency response.
  5. Most importantly, once you initiate a 911 call do not hang up! As the call progresses your job is to give information and answer questions. Never hang up. If the operator hangs up, or you become disconnected, hang up your phone and wait for a call back. Do not leave the phone. The 911 operator will call back.
  6. Wait for the call-taker to ask questions, then answer slowly, clearly and calmly as possible. If you are in danger of assault, the dispatcher or call-taker will still need you to answer quietly, mostly “yes” and “no” questions.
  7. If you reach a recording, listen to the entire message before reacting. Try to respond to what the message says. Follow any instructions offered. If the recording says your call cannot be completed, hang up and try again. If the recording says all call-takers are busy, wait! When the next call-taker or dispatcher is available to take the call, you will transfer you.
  8. Let the call-taker guide the conversation. He or she is typing the information into a computer and may seem to be taking a long time. However, there is a good chance emergency services are already being sent while you are still on the line.
  9. Follow all directions. In many cases, the call-taker will provide directions. Listen carefully, follow each step exactly, and ask for clarification if you don’t understand the information provided.
  10. Keep your eyes open. You may be asked to describe victims, suspects, vehicles, or other parts of the scene. In cases of motor vehicle accidents, be able to provide colors of apparatus, if there are injured patients, or any signs of fire visible.

Do not hang up the call until directed to do so by the call-taker.

Some extra ideas to help with 911 calls:

  • No matter what happens – Try to stay Calm. Take a deep breath before attempting to place your call.
  • Cell phones may not tell the call-taker where you are. Know the differences when calling 911 on a cell phone. Never program 911 into your automatic dialer (phone memory). You’re not going to forget the number and accidental 911 calls are more likely with auto-dialers. If someone calls 911 and doesn’t speak, emergency services must still be dispatched.

To make a 911 phone call its as easy as :

  1. A phone.
  2. A deep breath.
  3. To know where you are.

When should you call 911

Calling 911 is a request for an emergency services response. Most importantly, use your best judgment related to when to call for help. If a life is on the line calling 911 is always right thing to do.

Think in terms of immediate action: Do seconds count? If an intruder is in the house, the police need to respond immediately before someone gets hurt – call 911. However, finding a damaged car or a missing television set can be reported by calling the police non-emergency phone number.

Sometimes people are afraid to call 911 because they are unsure whether their medical condition or complaint rises to the level of an emergency. Calling a physician for advice is a good place to start, but if a physician isn’t readily available do not hesitate, call 911 right away.

There are specific conditions that are true medical emergencies that require a 911 call for emergency service and should not wait for a call back from the family doctor before calling 911. These medical conditions are time sensitive. Waiting too talk to the doctor could have serious consequences, even death. And, most likely, the doctor is going to advise you to call 911 immediately. The 911 call takers have protocols that they use to move a 911 call along from the location of the incident, to the ambulance, and into the emergency room. A family physician will probably not have access to the protocol provided to the 911 call takers.

When experiencing one of the following conditions, call 911 immediately:

  1. Anaphylaxis – a severe form of allergic reaction usually associated with shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  2. Bloody diarrhea with weakness- usually accompanied by changes in mental status
  3. Chest pain-the most common sign of a heart attack
  4. An unresponsive victim-or any patient who is not behaving normally
  5. Confusion-or any abnormal behavior
  6. Dizziness – especially when associated with a person “passing out”.
  7. Drug overdose-a true emergency
  8. Heart attack –may be indicated by chest pain, altered mental status, or difficulty breathing
  9. Heat stroke – normally related to exposure to extremely hot temperatures
  10. Shortness of breath – if they cannot talk in complete sentences call 911
  11. Stroke- may present with slurred speech, weakness on one side of the body, or alteration of mental status.
  12. A medical situation or injury that is a danger to a persons well being.