Over the years, there has been a lot of effort put into making a call for help in an emergency as simple as possible.
Dialling 911 is easy to remember and, in an age where almost everyone carries a cell phone, it makes contacting fire, police and ambulance almost effortless. Unfortunately, knowing when you should actually make a 911 call can be unclear. Over the years, I have had people admit to me that they were too embarrassed to call 911 because they didn’t think the situation was serious enough to bother anyone. Even more concerning is that some people have told me they didn’t want to get involved or believed that someone else would make the call. Unfortunately, this happens way too often and has, I fear, become somewhat normal behavior, even when someone is in trouble and needing help.
There definitely appears to be some confusion as to when a person should call 911 and what really constitutes an emergency. As a rule, any threat to a person’s life, safety, health or property is generally accepted as good rationale for making a 911 call. I understand a concern for not tying up an emergency line with non-emergency calls but the truth is, that if there is ever any doubt in your mind as to what the appropriate response should be, you should err on the side of caution and call 911. I promise you, the dispatcher is trained to help sort it all out.
When someone is in trouble, it is important to call or ensure that someone else has called 911 and that help is on its way before helping out in other ways. When it comes to an emergency, seconds count and police, ambulance and fire can all be contacted quickly by just making a simple phone call. The time it takes for you to determine whether or not you should make that call could delay the response for help, which could allow the situation to worsen.
I do have to be honest, calling 911 isn’t necessarily as easy as it might first appear. First of all, it is really important not to panic when making a 911 call. Take a moment to make sure you are safe by ensuring that you are far enough away from the emergency to avoid getting hurt. You need to speak in a calm, clear voice in order to accurately deliver the information the dispatcher is going to ask for.
You need to know the specifics of your location and be ready to give a brief, concise, description of what has happened and what the present situation is like. Listen to the dispatcher and follow their instructions while at the same time reminding yourself that help is on its way. Don’t hang up until you are instructed to because things can change drastically in an emergency and emergency services need to know what is happening at all times.
Finally, please don’t assume that someone else has called 911. Only a few weeks ago, a gentleman informed me that he knew of two witnesses to the start of a fire in an office building on 48th Avenue last summer. Both had commented on the length of time it took fire services to arrive — about 20 minutes, they said. Understandably, this gentleman was calling me to find out what had happened.
What I told him was that I know from experience that time can seem a lot longer than it really is during an emergency. In the case of this fire, the recorded dispatch time indicates that it took the first fire department truck four minutes to arrive on scene after receiving the alarm from 911. However, I realize that 20 minutes compared to four minutes was a significant difference, especially when it was witnessed by two different people. It made me question whether or not something else might have helped cause the discrepancy.
I then remembered that I had found a remarkably large amount of video and pictures of that fire posted on the Internet. The images and video footage covered everything from the fire’s beginning until long after it was put out. Although the pictures and videos proved to be invaluable as far as helping with the fire investigation, I can’t help but wonder: how much time did it take from when the fire was first discovered to when someone finally decided to call 911, and if the call happened only after photos and videos were taken?
For most of us, there is a good chance that sometime in our life, we are going to need to make a 911 call. When the time comes, remember how important that call is and the huge difference you could be playing in reducing the negative impact that an emergency situation can have on someone’s life.
Lawrie Skolrood is a deputy fire chief with Vernon Fire Rescue.