“9-1-1, please state the nature of your emergency.” We’ve all heard those words in the movies, right? But what is it really like to call 9-1-1? This week, we paired up with Tamara El-Hato from Willamette Valley Communications Center – our very own 9-1-1 dispatch – to talk a bit about what you need to know about calling 9-1-1.
First of all, your call will be answered by a call taker. These are not always the same as the voices you hear over the air directing us where to go and such. There are specific people who do call taking as their only function. All dispatchers are trained as call takers but do not always answer calls. All call takers and dispatchers are people who have undergone special training to answer emergency calls, ask specific questions, and even give instructions over the phone for things like CPR. Often, this will be the only person that you talk to until help arrives at your location.
One of the first questions they might ask you is if you can hold. Be honest! If your house was broken into 5 hours ago and the burglars are gone, you can hold! If your loved one has collapsed and are no longer breathing, you cannot hold! If you say you can’t hold when you really could, you might be taking them away from a call that really couldn’t hold. Our dispatch center dispatches for THREE counties – fire, medics, and law enforcement! That is a lot of calls!
Next, they’re going to start asking you questions. It is really important that you try to stay as calm as possible so that they can understand what you are saying. Follow their lead, they are going to ask questions in a specific order, to get the most important things for the responders first. You also need to be able to understand what they are asking you or instructing you to do and the best chance of that happening is by staying as calm as possible. It is easier said than done in an emergency but it is very important to try!
Briefly explain what has happened that led you to call 9-1-1. The call taker will start asking you questions to clarify and get the information that will help your volunteers and other responders.
Tamara, who you might remember from this year’s NNO luau, told us that the “address is vital information we need to get a call started.” To get help headed your way, the call taker needs to know who you need (fire, medic, law enforcement, a combination thereof) and where you are! Use the closest address whenever possible. If you’re on the road somewhere and don’t see an address near by, look for other things that could be used – road names – the one you’re on plus the one you most recently passed and the next one you’ll pass if you know them; mile markers; and landmarks – did you pass a state park? a cemetery? a farm with a name prominently shown? a county line? Anything that will help narrow down your location.
This is why it is so important to teach little ones their address as soon as possible! If there is an emergency at home and you are unable to call for help yourself, your child will be able to provide the most important information they can – the address of the call! They might not be able to describe what the emergency is as well as an adult but they often can get the point across and get help on the way!
While the call taker is asking you questions, they are putting it into a computer system. That system allows a dispatcher – the voices you hear over the air – to start units rolling your way. As the call taker continues to ask you questions, units can be responding and getting updates from the dispatchers over the air and, in some districts, over the computers in their vehicles.
Tamara wants everyone to know that answering all of the call taker’s questions will not slow down the time it takes for units to be tapped out or respond. In fact, you’re helping responders get the information they need in order to help you! Each question has a reason, even if it is hard to see during an emergency. This is what they are trained for and a lot of time has been put into figuring out which questions to ask!
You need to answer their questions as completely and honestly as possible. Every bit of information helps! That information can help responders know what equipment to grab, how fast to drive, and even whether or not the scene is safe. The call takers are not there to judge you. And they have heard all kinds of stories! Answer them honestly so your volunteers and other responders are able to help you and your loved ones quicker and more efficiently!
Finally, the call taker may give you instructions – they could be as simple as remain with the patient or get out of the house to walking you through labor. Whatever the instructions are, listen carefully and follow them! They are giving you those instructions for the safety of yourself, your loved ones, and responders.