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When To Dial 9-1-1

Fact Checked

The 911 and other local emergency services across the country receive thousands of calls each day. Unfortunately, only half of these calls are actually true emergencies. Paramedics and emergency personnel respond to a handful of calls but many of these calls could have been handled differently if there were available options.

Learning when and how to contact emergency medical services during a potential emergency is a component covered in every St Mark James training program. For more information and details enrol in St Mark James first aid and CPRcall911 training with a St Mark James affiliate near you.

Determining a true emergency

The sad thing is that these unnecessary calls waste the time and resources of emergency services, which can cost the lives of others who are in life-threatening situation. As such, it is everyone’s duty to be responsible when using emergency services. Before you dial 9-1-1, make sure that the incident is a true emergency, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the incident threaten the life or limb of the victim?
  • Could transferring the victim to hospital worsen his condition or threaten his life?
  • Could the distance or traffic conditions delay transfer to the emergency department?
  • Could moving the casualty cause further injury or harm?
  • Does the condition require skills or equipment of professional emergency medical services?

Some medical emergencies that you can refer to 911 include experiencing allergic reaction, unconsciousness, having chest pain, not breathing or gasping for air, uncontrollable bleeding, and other symptoms that require emergency medical attention.

Aside from medical emergencies, the 911 also responds to other emergency situations that require immediate assistance of authorities such as the fire department, police or ambulance. Emergency situations include fires, crime in progress, and motor vehicle accident, especially if there are injuries involved. Call-takers at 911 cannot provide you information about the power outages, weather, public services, or seasonal time change. If you are looking for a ‘non-emergency’ phone number, you can refer online or yellow pages to retrieve the number. 911 should be used only for emergency situations and is not an information line.

However, if you are unsure about whether the incident is a true emergency, officials recommend that you call 9-1-1 and let the call-take determine whether the situation requires immediate response.

Be ready with information

When you make a call to 911, make sure you can provide accurate information and can answer the call-taker’s questions that include:

  • Exact location of the victim, including street address or landmarks
  • Phone number you are calling from
  • Details about the emergency:
    • nature of the emergency
    • description of the victim or assailant (in case of crimes)
    • number of victims
    • injuries sustained by casualties
    • treatment provided to the casualties, if any

It is very important that you provide the call-taker with appropriate information so that you can get the right help quickly. Also, listen carefully to the call-taker as they may give you instructions; be ready to take these instructions and provide basic first aid. In most cases, the 911 emergency dispatch operator will guide you, step-by-step on what to do while waiting for rescue service to arrive. Lastly, do not hang up the call unless the call-taker tells you to.

If you mistakenly dial 911, or if a child dials 911 when there is no emergency, do not hang up instead explain it to the call-taker. The 911 call-taker may think that an emergency occurred, and possible dispatch responders to your location.

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