Dialing 911

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Plan now before you have to dial 911.

The 911 emergency telephone system is in place in many US cities to assist citizens with police, medical, or fire emergencies. Check to see that your area has 911. If not, create a list of the appropriate emergency numbers and place a list near each phone. It should be realized that non-emergency calls to the 911 system or any emergency phone number can create delays in handling other very serious emergencies that require immediate attention. The following are guidelines for the proper use of the 911 system for fire and medical emergencies for most major cities. Learn the system in your area. Learn about the emergency systems wherever you may travel.

Do not call 911 for non-emergency transportation, use taxi cabs or call a private ambulance listed under Ambulance in your local telephone directory.

Examples of non-emergency situations are:

  • Minor illness or injury not requiring immediate help:
    • Flu/common cold
    • Chronic (ongoing) aches and pain
    • Minor cuts
    • Broken fingers or toes
  • Emotional Upsets
  • Routine Transportation to medical offices, clinics and hospitals

Remember, these are general guidelines -- If there is any doubt, do not hesitate to call the paramedics.

Call 911 for a life-threatening emergency such as:

  • Breathing difficulty/shortness of breath/ breathing has stopped.
  • Choking (can't talk or breathe).
  • Constant chest pain - in adults (lasting longer than two minutes).
  • Uncontrollable bleeding / large blood loss.
  • Drowning.
  • Electrocution.
  • Drug overdose /poisoning.
  • Gunshot wounds, stabbing.
  • Vomiting blood.
  • Sudden fainting /unconsciousness
  • Convulsions / seizures (uncontrolled jerking, movements the patient may fall to the floor).
  • Severe allergic reaction (difficulty breathing / unresponsive)
  • Major burns (white or charred skin: blisters and redness over large area).
  • Someone who will not wake up, even when you shake them.
  • Severe injuries from:
    • Traffic accidents
    • Head Injury
    • Significant falls
    • Physical entrapment (i.e. car accident with victim trapped in the vehicle)

What happens when you request emergency medical services on 911?

911 should only be used when a true emergency exists, "police", "fire", or "medical". Identify your call as a medical or fire emergency. in many area the dispatcher will electronically receive the address and telephone number of the caller. However, if you are not sure if the emergency system in your area captures that information, tell the dispatcher your address and phone number.

Critical information the dispatcher needs to know:

  • What's the emergency? What's wrong?
  • Where is the emergency? Give the address, include building number, apartment number, nearest cross street. The name of the building is also helpful.
  • Who needs help? Age/ number of people.
  • Are they conscious? Yes or no.
  • Are they breathing? Yes or no.
  • The accuracy of all telephone numbers and addresses must be verified again by the dispatcher.

Note: Wait for the fire department to hang up before you do.

Remain calm and give direct answers to the questions asked. Speak slowly and clearly. You will be asked additional questions so the dispatcher can send the right type of help. All questions are important.

The dispatcher may also provide you with critical pre-arrival instructions, such as CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) or the Heimlich Maneuver.

Understanding what happens when a 911 call is placed will help the system run more efficiently and will bring you the emergency medical service you need in the shortest possible time.

How you can help before the fire department arrives:

  • Assure the patient that help is on the way.
  • Keep the phone line clear after the 911 call is made.
  • Direct someone to wait out front to meet the ambulance and lead the way.
  • Wave a flashlight or turn on flashers of a car or porch light if it's dark or visibility is poor.
  • Consider having an interpreter if the patient does not speak english.
  • Secure pets, especially dogs, in a separate area.
  • Have a visible address, easily readable from the street.
  • Gather or make a list of medications that the patient is using and give to emergency personnel.