Here are some basic questions and answers about the 9-1-1 system, why you use it, how to use it, and what may happen behind the scene...
"When should I call 9-1-1-?"
9-1-1 is designed to process dangerous and life threatening emergencies in the fastest way possible. By using 9-1-1 only for emergencies, you allow emergency dispatchers to be available for calls, rather then be tied up with general questions, or directions. In an emergency, time is of the essence and every second counts.
"What is a dangerous and life threatening emergency?"
Any imminent threat against someone's well being, or life, any medical condition needing emergent transport to a hospital, or any imminent or in progress threat to someone's property would be appropriate for calling 9-1-1.
"Can I call 9-1-1 from any phone?"
Any phone that has power, or currently works is able to call
9-1-1. This includes household phones, "pay as you go" phones, pay phones if you can find them these days, and any cell phone that has power. Keep in mind that even old cell phones with batteries that turn on can still call 9-1-1... So if you give your old cell to your little ones to play with, and they hit
9-1-1, we will enjoy the sounds of Sponge Bob while sending an officer to your house!
"Why do the police still come to my house when I accidentally call 9-1-1? I told the dispatcher everything was ok!?"
Policies can vary town to town, but generally speaking, even though a 9-1-1 call was accidental, police may still respond just to confirm that everything is ok. Sometimes things happen and 9-1-1 gets called, but then people change their mind and don't want the police involved, or worse–whoever called is too scared to tell us what happened, or has been threatened and if they tell the police then they will be harmed. It's our job as dispatchers, and the job of the police to make sure everyone is protected, so a quick check up by your local PD may occur. It happens often, and is nothing to be embarrassed about.
"I called 9-1-1 to report an emergency, the dispatchers asked me a lot of questions- Too many! Why didn't they just send help?!"
When you call 9-1-1 a lot of things get put into motion. Most dispatch centers have at least two dispatchers on duty, and they both have the ability to answer the 9-1-1 call. While you may be talking to one dispatcher, the other is also listening. Most likely he or she is entering the information into the computer, and sending help while listening to the questions being answered, and updating responding units, so they arrive in the safest manner, and prepared appropriately for the emergency.
"Can I do anything to help someone who is having a medical emergency until EMS gets there?"
When you call 9-1-1, dispatchers will triage the call, once help is sent, dispatchers may (case dependent) instruct you on how to help the person in need until help arrives. This may include how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver, CPR instructions, utilizing an AED (Automated External Defibrillator), identifying stroke symptoms, patient medical history, administering medications, just to name a few and even simple instructions such as unlocking doors, turning outside lights on, and securing pets. This of course is based on a call-by-call basis, depending on the severity of an incident. *If at any point you are uncomfortable doing anything a dispatcher asks you too, or if it is unsafe, please say so* We can't see what is going on at the scene, we are depending on you for information, so at anytime if something doesn't feel right, please tell the dispatcher, your safety is most important, and we will do the best we can to keep you safe.
"What if I can't speak when I call 9-1-1? I may really need help, but if I can't talk I don't want anyone to think its a prank!"
Dispatchers are trained to handle calls where the caller can't speak. The best thing you can do in this case is to listen. If a dispatcher answers a call, and you can't talk, they will ask if anyone is on the phone and to press a number on the phone, this will show up on our 9-1-1 screens and dispatchers will start the "Silent Call Procedure".
The Silent Call procedure is a unique program in the Massachusetts Enhanced 9-1-1 system that allows a caller who is unable to verbally communicate their emergency over the phone to receive the appropriate response.
If you need to call 9-1-1 and you are unable to speak for any reason, such as a physical disability, domestic violence or home invasion, follow these simple steps using a touch tone wireline telephone or a cell phone:
FIRST DIAL 9-1-1
Once the call is answered, indicate your need by pressing the appropriate number on your telephone.
IF YOU NEED POLICE
IF YOU NEED FIRE
IF YOU NEED AN AMBULANCE
The 9-1-1 Dispatcher may ask questions that require yes or no answers. Just listen to the prompting of the dispatcher and press the appropriate number for an answer, EXAMPLE: 4 for Yes, 5 for No etc.
The dispatcher will prompt you for which number to press, you do not need to remember these numbers, just be able to listen and answer honestly, and appropriately.
"When a call is disconnected, is it ok to call 9-1-1 again if I need to?"
Yes! Sometimes things change after you call 9-1-1, and it is ok to call again to provide updated information, or changes in a patient's condition. Sometimes a dispatcher will keep you on the phone until help arrives. This is so we can update the responders as information changes, and we can keep the responders informed.
"I called 9-1-1 from my cell phone, I spoke to a dispatcher who quickly took my information, I then got transferred to another 9-1-1 Center and had to start all over again! This frustrated me! Why did this happen?"
Currently in Massachusetts 911 Cell calls are routed to three different State Police Agencies across the state depending on where the cell call originates from. State Police dispatchers will briefly triage the call, most importantly finding out the location of the call, and transfer it to the appropriate agency who handles that jurisdiction, that agency will then process the call and get the appropriate help started. In the future, Cell calls may be routed directly to the appropriate 911 center, but they are still fine tuning that technology. Texting 911 is also in the works and being tested, but is not active in Massachusetts at this time.
To sum all of this up, the best thing you can do when calling
9-1-1 is to have the address of the emergency ready, what the emergency is, and any other pertinent information. Listen to the dispatcher, and answer the questions to the best of your ability. Be patient, and rest assured there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes to get you the help as soon as possible.
Copyright 2014 FIREGROUND360°. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the consent of FIREGROUND360° and it's authors.
Jason Rushford has been an Emergency Dispatcher with Amherst Communications Center since 2006. He started his career in public safety in 1999 when he joined the Orange Fire Department as a call firefighter in which he currently still serves, and holds the rank of Lieutenant/EMT-B. During his off-time he is also a manager and regular contributor here at FIREGROUND360°.