I have been apart of Emergency Services for the past seven years getting a start when I was a junior member of my local volunteer EMS agency. I have been in EMS for those entire seven years volunteer and paid as a First Responder, EMT-Basic, and for the past three years as an ALS Provider. In the last four years I have worked in communications first for a commercial EMS agency dispatching only our EMS units. In the last two years I stopped working on the road full-time and took a position at a 911-center full-time doing EMS Per Diem and of course continuing my volunteer service. In the past two years I have added 911 Call Taking, Police Dispatch, and Fire Dispatch to the previous five years of experience that had been solely in EMS.
While I’m not the most experienced person in the world I would think that after seven years of seeing why people called 911 or called for an ambulance that I would stop being surprised. But in all honesty that hasn’t happened… When I was naïve and didn’t know any better I blamed the dispatcher for giving us wrong information or for mistakes in addresses, and things of that nature. I didn’t really understand how things were on the other side of the radio, and I will admit that sometimes I would complain to my partner or other crews about things that happened in the course of the day. Of course I also was not the only guilty of that and to be honest sometimes I still do it when I work on the road despite “knowing better”. Though at the same time don’t think for a minute when I’m sitting behind the desk (as I am now writing this) that I don’t think the same thing about the units in the field causing nothing but trouble and being incapable of following my simple instructions.
The fact of the matter is that people are not educated in how their 911 systems work. They do not know what to expect when to call 911, they do not know what they’re supposed to do in an emergency and the biggest problem that I cannot fathom is that most people have no idea whatsoever where they are…
It drives me absolutely crazy when someone calls and has no idea what road they are, what town they are in, or etc. It’s even more aggravating when it’s someone who has lived in the area forever and can point out that it’s George’s old house but he moved 10 years ago (yeah when I in High School) but refuses to attempt to find the real address of the house.
So… Where I’m going with this rant is “Location, Location, Location!” People need to know where they are because help cannot be sent to them. If they THINK they know where they are but aren’t correct it could also cause havoc depending on the system. For instance: You have someone calling from number 800 State Route 1 in the Village of Oakridge. In the village of Oakridge SR-1 has the name of “Main St” and so the person who doesn’t’ realize this gives the address 800 SR-1 instead of 800 Main St. But wait, it gets better… In the Town of Oakridge there is an 800 SR-1 that is different from that of 800 Main St and so the wrong police department is dispatched to the wrong address. The same could be true with EMS or Fire and could cause someone serious injury or even death given the situation at hand.
Another location-based issue is that people are on the phone with their loved ones and thinks they collapsed. They know that they live someplace in the Arizona but they live in Maine… So when they dial 911 and get the local 911 center in Maine and tell them that their cousin someplace in Arizona is having a Heart Attack and that they have an extensive cardiac history but have no idea where it is they live… Arizona is a pretty large place, as is any other state… or even a town. Take an area with 500 residences and have someone say someplace in one of those there is someone having a heart attack, if the person was found in the last of 500 houses checked odds are the outcome would be bleak.
Another problem that is run into often is that people don’t call for their own help. If you live in Virginia and you’re having an asthma attack do not call Mom who lives in California to tell her about it. She should not be the person who is calling 911 to get you help, 911 is not nationwide. Each area has it’s own 911 system that could be run by a 911 center, by the local police, or have multiple solutions. If you have an emergency do not call and share it with someone and ask them to get you help make that one life saving call to 911 and then if you can make another call to Mom afterwards. It will only delay help arriving to you and it could potentially make the danger to your wellbeing even worse than what it was originally when you needed the help.
So just to recap and to offer some tips/information for the public wanting to call 911:
- Make your own phone call, do not ask someone else to contact 911 for you when they are not on the scene of the emergency.
- Know where you are always, and know the proper name and jurisdiction of the place that you are at. (Town, Village, etc.)
- If at all possible ALWAYS call from a land line telephone.
- Not all cell phones can be traced and the ones that can are not always correct even with the Advanced E-911 systems.
- 911 Dispatchers will ask questions, this information may not seem important during the course of your emergency however it can make a big difference determining the response to your emergency.
- Delaying the 911 dispatcher by being uncooperative to questioning or providing information will only delay the help getting to you.