Here's what to expect when you call 9-1-1 in an emergency
Submitted by Howard Owens on March 22, 2010 - 9:26am
Often times, according to Emergency Communications Director Steven Sharpe, when people call 9-1-1 looking for help in a hurry, they don't understand why the dispatcher starts asking a lot of questions.
A father has fallen from a ladder, a grandmother has had a stroke, or a child is seriously ill. The caller has one thought: Get an ambulance here fast!
And some dispatcher on the other end of the phone starts asking questions and seems to be taking up a lot of time talking. The caller is thinking: Why can't you just send help now instead of gabbing on the phone?
What the caller may not realize, is that the dispatch center is staffed by three or more people who can share information quickly and easily through their computers. While one dispatcher is gathering vital information that will assist emergency responders when they arrive on scene, another dispatcher is already putting out the call to the appropriate agency.
Sharpe sent a press release to local media explaining procedures in detail. The full release is available after the jump:
Your family member falls off a ladder and is howling in pain, you call 9-1-1 and the dispatcher starts asking you a series of questions. Aren’t these questions just wasting time? You’re frustrated; you just want help as fast as possible.
When you call 9-1-1 and get the Genesee County Emergency Dispatch Center, there are a number of things happening simultaneously that are designed to help you.
A majority of the time, while you are being questioned by a 9-1-1 dispatcher, the dispatcher’s partner is listening and often is already in the process of sending first responders to your location, as long as the location has already been provided.
That is why the first question asked is always, “Genesee County 9-1-1, what is the address of your emergency?” The dispatcher needs to know your exact location so help can get to you as quickly as possible. Although there have been a great deal of improvements in location technologies, cellular companies only have to provide 9-1-1 location information within 300 meters. Three hundred meters could mean up to a couple of blocks radius within the city. That is why it is necessary to confirm your exact location.
Next, the dispatcher will ask your name and call-back number so it is known who to call in case the line gets cut off. This is especially important if you are calling from a school or business where all the outgoing lines go through a PBX (Private Branch Exchange). Calls have been received where the 9-1-1 screen shows an address from one building, but the person in need is at a branch office miles away. Having your name and direct call-back number can be the difference between saving a life and sending help to the wrong location.
At this point, if you haven’t already explained what your emergency is, you will be prompted to "tell me exactly what happened.” For medical calls, an Emergency Medical Dispatch Protocol is followed, in accordance with NYS 9-1-1 Board Adopted Standards. This protocol is a series of questions and instructions designed to help the dispatcher send the right response, provide life-saving instructions, and help a caller remain calm during this time of crisis. You will then be asked additional questions about the patient’s status (age, awake, breathing, etc.). These are the very basic questions that help the dispatcher determine if it is appropriate to stop asking questions and dispatch responders.
Depending on the situation, additional questions may be asked; and based on your answers, either an Advanced Life Support Ambulance or a Basic Life Support Ambulance will be sent. For Basic Life Support, the information you provide will determine the urgency of the medical care needed and whether the ambulance travels with lights and sirens. Which agencies respond is determined by your location.
After the call is dispatched, the 9-1-1 dispatcher will stay on the line to give you instructions to help the patient and the emergency medical professionals. Instructions may include: do not let the patient have anything to eat or drink, unlock the door, etc. For more serious emergencies, the dispatcher may have you send someone to get an AED (Automated External Defibrillator), provide step-by-step instructions on how to deliver a baby (this has been done four times to date), or help you perform rescue breathing or CPR.
The Genesee County Emergency Dispatch Center is here to help when you are potentially having the worst day of your life. Although it may seem like time is being wasted when dispatchers initially ask a series of questions; they are, in fact, sending responders your way while providing you the appropriate assistance. There have been a number of cases where following the dispatcher’s instructions have helped to save a patient’s life.
If you have further questions about the processes involved when a 9-1-1 call is received, how to contact agencies for non-emergencies, or if you would like a tour of the Genesee County 9-1-1 Center, please feel free to contact Director Sharpe at 585-343-5000.
Remember to call 9-1-1 for all police, fire, or medical emergencies!