USING 9-1-1

9-1-1 is the telephone number to dial when you need help in an emergency. By dialing 9-1-1, you have access to fire, police, medical aid, rescue, and Poison Control.

When to Call 9-1-1

When to Call 9-1-1   
Call 9-1-1 if you have an emergency--something that threatens life or property and requires an immediate response by a police, fire, or medical crew.
If you have a medical emergency, do not try to drive yourself to the hospital or have someone else take you. If you collapse in route, there may not be a phone nearby to call 9-1-1 or the person driving you may have to use a cell phone, and that delays getting help. Your fastest way to get help is to stay where you are and call 9-1-1.

Do not drive to a fire station to get help--the firefighter-EMTs may be out on another call or doing an inspection. Your fastest help will come by dialing 9-1-1.  Then the closest available unit can be sent to where you are.

When NOT to Call 9-1-1   
Remember, 9-1-1 is only for emergencies. If you're not sure whether it's an emergency, always call 9-1-1 and let the trained emergency personnel decide. If you know it isn't an emergency, use the non-emergency number.

Use the regular telephone number of the agency you need:
Federal Way Fire Department 253-839-6234 or 253-927-3118
Federal Way Police 253-946-4600
King County Sheriff 206-296-3311
Non-emergency use of 9-1-1 clogs the system and delays dispatchers from helping those who have true emergencies. So,
… if your stove or furnace stops working
… if your toilet or sink is plugged up or overflowing
… if you have a toothache
… if your electric power, telephone or television cable goes out
… if a pet is up a tree
… if you need to find a telephone number
… if you want to know road or weather conditions, or about community events,
Don't call 9-1-1.   
Also, please don't use 9-1-1 as a substitute for your own physician. The firefighter-EMTs and Medic One paramedics are not doctors. If you have the flu, they can't do much for you except tell you to seek medical help. 
  • At home, just dial 9-1-1.
  • If you are calling from a business phone, you may have to dial another number (usually "9") before you can dial 9-1-1.
  • At a pay phone, dial 9-1-1. A coin isn't necessary.
  • 9-1-1 centers are equipped with devices to communicate with the deaf. If you are using a TTY or TDD, press the space bar until a response is received.
  • On a cellular phone, just dial 9-1-1 and activate (usually a "send" or "talk" button). There is no charge to your cellular phone bill.
However, if you have a choice, always call 9-1-1 from a regular telephone instead of a cell phone. Presently, no address shows up on a computer screen at the 9-1-1 center when you call on a cell phone. If you don't know where you are, they can't find you. Also, calling 9-1-1 from a cell phone will be slower than from a regular phone. It doesn't go directly to the 9-1-1 center serving you, as do calls from a regular phone. Cellular calls can go to many different "cell sites" and your call might not be answered close to where you are. It may take some time for them to get you to the right 9-1-1 center, and your call may have to be transferred more than once. Even worse, you might be caught in a "dead zone" where there is no cell phone coverage, or the call may be blocked by interference from tall buildings
  • The person with information about the emergency should be the one who calls 9-1-1. If someone says "go call 9-1-1," take a minute and ask for information about the problem. In a medical emergency, the dispatcher will want to talk with the patient or someone who is with the patient.
  • Please don't program 9-1-1 into the speed-dial feature of your phone. It's too easy to hit that button by mistake. Also, when the battery is weak on some cordless phones, it may dial 9-1-1 automatically.
  • You can't program your alarm system to automatically dial 9-1-1. Most alarm activations are false alarms. Also, the dispatcher needs to make voice contact with the person calling. If you want 9-1-1 to be notified when your alarm system is going off, you have to hire a company to monitor the alarm. The monitoring company takes action to make sure the alarm isn't false (such as calling your home), then notifies 9-1-1.
If you live in the City of Federal Way, your call goes first to a center in Kent called Valley Communications. If you live in unincorporated King County around Federal Way, your call goes first to the King County Sheriff’s 9-1-1 center in downtown Seattle. Both of those agencies dispatch police response, so if you need the police they will send them.

Neither of those agencies dispatches fire or medical responders in the Federal Way area, however. If you have a fire or medical problem, they’ll say something like "stay on the line, I’m going to transfer your call." Then they hit a "hot button" and the call automatically is forwarded to South County Communications, the 9-1-1 center located in the head-quarters station of Federal Way Fire Department. Our dispatchers then send fire and/or medical crews.

So don’t be surprised if your call is transferred. Some callers have been upset, thinking they were being "put on hold" by 9-1-1, because they didn’t understand that the first dispatcher had to get their call to the right place. Tell the first dispatcher what the problem is; then give details to the fire/medical dispatcher.

What to Expect When You Call 9-1-1  
  • They'll ask you questions.
That doesn't mean you won't get any help until you answer all the questions, however. While one dispatcher talks to you by phone, another dispatcher listens to the conversation. As soon as that second dispatcher hears enough information to start help, he or she radios the information to firefighter-EMTs who start on their way to you. Meanwhile, the dispatcher talking to you has to get more information for the emergency crew. Don't be concerned--cooperate with the dispatcher. Let them guide the conversation, and answer all the questions they ask you. Information that doesn't seem important to you could be crucial to the crew coming to help you. Never hang up until the dispatcher says it's okay.

Be prepared to answer at least the following questions:
  • Which emergency agency you need (police, fire or medical)
  • The nature of the emergency
  • The address or location where help is needed (including building and apartment number)
  • Your name
  • The phone number you're calling from.
  • The phone number you're calling from will usually be displayed on a computer screen at the 9-1-1 center.
In the Federal Way area, we have what's called "Enhanced 9-1-1." That means that when the 9-1-1 dispatcher picks up the phone, the telephone number from which the call is coming is displayed on a computer screen--along with the name and address of the person listed for that number. That provides extra protection for you. If you hang up before you give them all the necessary information, they can call you back. If you are too sick to talk, or if a small child doesn't know the address and telephone number, the dispatcher can send a crew to the address on the screen.

If the name, address and phone number are on the computer screen, why does the dispatcher ask you for it? Some telephones, such as PBX exchanges, cell phones, and some apartment private exchanges, don't provide this information to the dispatcher. For phones that do provide it, there's a chance that the information on the 9-1-1 screen is wrong. Information in the 9-1-1 database is entered by people, and sometimes they make a mistake. Also, if you've recently moved and kept the same phone number, it takes about three days for the new address to be entered.
  • If you need fire or medical help, your call will be transferred.
The first dispatcher who answers your call is at a police center. If you need fire or medical help, they'll immediately send your call to the Federal Way Fire Department dispatch center. (See "When You Call 9-1-1, Where Does Your Call Go?")
  • The dispatcher can tell you what to do until help arrives.
While you're waiting for the firefighter-EMTs to arrive, the dispatcher is trained to give you instructions in how to give first aid to the person who is hurt, or perform CPR if that's necessary.
Please do not call 9-1-1 and hang up--the system will already have recognized your call. The dispatcher will then have to call you back to see if there's a problem. If you don't answer or your response seems suspicious, a police officer will be dispatched. If you dial 9-1-1 by mistake, stay on the line and tell the operator you made an error.

Can I be "Put on Hold" When I Call 9-1-1?     
There is more than one line into the 9-1-1 center, but if several calls come in at once it can tie up all the lines. If all 9-1-1 lines are busy, you’ll get a recording that says "stay on the line—all circuits are busy—your call will be answered in the order in which it’s received." If you’re at a safe phone, it’s important that you do just that. If you hang up and re-dial, you’ll go back to the end of the line. It may seem like it takes forever for them to answer, but it really is only a few seconds.

Teaching Children to Call 9-1-1     
  • Teach your children how and when to dial 9-1-1. Explain to them that 9-1-1 is their friend and can help them, so they need to do whatever the person who answers the phone tells them to do.
  • Teach your children their home address and telephone number.
  • Carefully explain that 9-1-1 is for an emergency, and tell them what the word "emergency" means. Give them some examples of when to call and when not to call.
  • Always refer to the number as "nine-one-one," not "nine-eleven." There is no "eleven" on the telephone dial, and calling it that can confuse young children.
  • When you're teaching your child how to use 9-1-1, use a toy phone. Remind them that 9-1-1 is not a toy or a game, so they can never "practice calling 9-1-1" on a real phone. They should never call 9-1-1 unless there is a real problem. If they do, the dispatcher will know who is calling and they can get in trouble.

Other Tips for Getting Help   

  • Stay calm--the dispatchers can't help you if they can't understand you. Take a deep breath and think before you talk. Speak slowly and clearly. We understand that can be difficult, but if you can remain as calm as possible and answer questions clearly, things will go much faster.
  • Keep your address and phone number posted near each phone so the information is easily available. It's easy for a person to mix up or not remember these numbers in an emergency. The information will also be useful for visitors to your home who have to call for help, such as babysitters.
  • If you can, send someone outside to meet the emergency unit and let them know exactly where you are. It's hard to find an address on a dimly-lit street in the middle of the night.
  • To help emergency crews find you, make sure your house numbers are clearly visible from the street both day and night. Paint the numbers a contrasting color, and be sure trees or bushes don't hide them.
  • Remember that 9-1-1 isn't used everywhere in the United States yet. When you go on a trip, always ask when you arrive what the emergency number is in that area. When out-of-town guests visit, always tell them that we use 9-1-1 in this area--if you're the one who's sick or hurt and your guest has to call for help, you certainly want them to know how to do it quickly!

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