Ever notice how the bad news finds its way into the headlines and onto the TV news? Perhaps you’ve heard stories about people who called 911–the emergency telephone number–and then were put on hold or had difficulty receiving emergency care.
However, in the vast majority of cases, 911 is a real lifesaver. It connects people to emergency medical care and fire and police services in the quickest, most efficient way possible.
Consider the case of high school freshman Bobby Kaurin.
Bobby Kaurin will never forget December 16, 1997. That’s the day he helped save the life of his friend Micky McKee by keeping cool in an emergency–and by dialing 911.
The two boys were skateboarding inside a large drainage pipe near their Lakewood, Colorado, neighborhood, when Micky–who wasn’t wearing a helmet–fell headfirst down a 12-foot-deep drain.
“After he fell, I said, `Micky, can you hear me?’ and he was making this growling noise,” Bobby told the Rocky Mountain News. Bobby then ran to a nearby business. “I told them, `I think my friend’s badly hurt. Do you have a phone?’ Then I called 911.”
Paramedics raced to the scene. Inside the ambulance, Micky’s heart stopped beating, and he stopped breathing for a short time. “If Bobby hadn’t called 911 when Micky fell, my son would have lost his life,” said the injured boy’s father.
Micky was treated for fractures to his collarbone and shoulder bone as well as for a blood clot in his head.
What Is 911?
911 is the phone number established by telephone companies throughout the United States to put people in touch with police, rescue, and fire departments. The number was chosen because it’s easy to remember, and most telephone equipment can be modified to work with the 911 system.
Anybody located in an area served by a 911 system may use the number in an emergency. You never need a coin when calling 911 from a pay phone. And 911 is always available, 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
When to Call
Don’t hesitate to call 911 if:
* You see a fire or witness a crime.
* You see someone suspicious who is threatening you, your house, or your neighborhood.
* Someone is hurt and requires emergency medical care.
Some warning signs of a medical emergency include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; chest pain; fainting; sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision; confusion or change in mental status; any sudden or severe pain; bleeding that won’t stop; severe or persistent vomiting; coughing or vomiting blood; suicidal or homicidal feelings.
Talking to the Dispatcher
911 dispatchers are professionals trained to make important decisions during times of crisis. In many communities, the 911 system stores a wealth of information in its data base. For example, in many systems the caller’s phone number and address are displayed on the dispatcher’s screen the moment the call is received. If the caller is unable to talk or is a child who doesn’t know his or her address, help can still be sent instantly.
But a dispatcher’s skill and the available technology may not be enough. When you call 911, there’s much you can do to save time–and possibly lives.
As a paramedic and firefighter in Lincolnwood, Illinois, Marc Small has been responding to 911 calls for nearly nine years. Here’s how he advises people to use the 911 system:
1. First, give the dispatcher your name and the telephone number you’re calling from.
2. Explain the nature of the emergency–whether there is a fire, an injury, or whatever else may have happened. Try to explain in as much detail as you can.
3. Give the address or location where the emergency has occurred.
It’s also important to:
* Stay calm and describe your emergency accurately.
* Be prepared to say which kind of service is required–fire, police, or ambulance.
* Speak clearly and answer all questions.
“The dispatcher may put you on hold while emergency services are dispatched,” says Small. “Don’t hang up until you are instructed to. After dispatching the emergency service, the operator may be able to guide you through emergency procedures over the telephone. You should be the one to hang up last, in case the dispatcher has additional questions or instructions.”
It’s better to call 911 instead of dialing “O.” You may get an operator many miles away. The operator–not the dispatcher–must then determine which emergency service to call, and then dial a seven-digit number, all of which costs valuable time. Remember: A call to a regular operator is not treated as an emergency. It may take some time before it’s answered.
When Not to Call
Don’t use 911 for traffic or parking information, to ask directions, to inquire about road conditions or snow removal–or when your cat has gone up a tree.
Small warns: “The biggest problem in large cities is people calling the emergency telephone line for nonemergencies. The system is often abused. Don’t call 911 if you have a small cut on your finger or a cat is caught in a tree. Someone may be having a heart attack. And when someone is having a heart attack, every second is vital. We don’t want to waste seconds.”
Some people live in areas that aren’t served by a 911 system. Check the first few pages in your phone book under “Police,” “Fire,” and “Rescue Squad” to find the emergency number in your area. Post any important numbers by your telephone, including those of your family physician, family members, a trusted neighbor, and the poison control center.
One final piece of advice: “in case of emergency,” Small says, “your family should always have a meeting place outside the home. In my family’s case, everyone knows to meet at the big tree in front of our house. Of course, it’s important to plan something like this before there’s an emergency.”