Every so often we hear silly stories on the news or a late night talk show of a person calling 911 for the dumbest of reasons. While someone dialing the emergency number to report a bright light they believe to be a UFO or to ask directions on how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey may seem funny on the surface – it’s really no laughing matter.
In communities with a limited staff of 911 operators, clogging up the service or wasting their time with anything other than a true emergency could put someone else’s life or safety at risk. And, educating the public as to what constitutes an “emergency” – and, when you should and shouldn’t call 911 – seems to be an ongoing, full-time job.
That’s why it’s important to remind everyone from time-to-time of the reasons to call 911 and when to call the police directly for non-life threatening situations. As a general rule, you should immediately dial 911 for anything that threatens life or property, according to Ty Wooten, education director for the National Emergency Number Association, also known as the 911 Association.
If you’re unsure whether your particular “emergency” warrants a call to 911, Wooten recommends you should still proceed with the call because, “It’s better to be on the safe side.” In fact, most 911 operators can redirect your call should the situation be deemed a non-emergency.
You should always call 911 if:
- Fire breaks out.
Because a fire can easily grow and spread rapidly, causing substantial damage, injuries or death, call 911 immediately. Regardless of whether the fire breaks out in your kitchen as a small grease fire, in your neighbor’s house or in the brush on a nearby hillside, a quick response could keep things from ending tragically.
- You or someone has a medical emergency
Time is of the essence in a life-threatening medical emergency, such as symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, choking, drowning, poisoning, accidental overdose, severe burns, or attempted suicide. Call 911 immediately.
- You’re the victim of or witness a crime
If you’re the victim of an assault or you happen to witness a burglary, a suspicious person lurking around, or see someone get attacked, call 911. This includes a burglar breaking into your home or your next door neighbor’s house.
- You’re involved in or witness a serious car crash
Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you’re injured or another party has suffered injuries following a serious car accident you’re involved in or witnessed. Feeling dizzy or unwell could mean possible head trauma or internal injuries and should be addressed immediately.
You should never call 911 to:
- Report a loud party or barking dog
- Report a power outage in the neighborhood
- Report burst water pipes
- Inquire about a parking ticket or moving violation
- Report minor injuries that don’t require emergency attention
- Inquire about the weather, road conditions or location of the best pizza in town
- Report any situation that’s clearly not an emergency
What if you need to call 911?
In the event of an actual emergency situation, dial 911 and be prepared to:
- Give the dispatcher your location
The 911 dispatcher will not only ask you what your emergency is, but also “Where is the emergency?” They need your address or location. This is especially important if you’re calling from your cell phone. Should you not know where you are, look around for landmarks or street signs to pinpoint your location.
- Answer the dispatcher’s questions
By responding to the dispatcher’s questions, he or she will be able to better determine the extent of the emergency and the type of equipment required, such as an advanced life support ambulance staffed with a paramedic and special equipment or a basic life support ambulance with EMTs for a possible heart attack.
In the event of a suspicious person with a gun, the dispatcher can send several squad cars to respond, as well as advising the officers to approach with caution.
- Follow the dispatcher’s instructions
Dispatch personnel are trained to provide instructions and explain how to render first aid until help can arrive. They can assist you in performing CPR, walk you through the Heimlich maneuver on a choking victim, and even advise you on how to stop bleeding.
Whether your 911 call results in an auto insurance, homeowners insurance or health insurance claim, it’s good to know such a potentially life-saving emergency service exists. So, we should all do our best to not abuse it.