It is said that you are always 60 seconds from any kind of emergency. Whether it is a car crash on the interstate, an active shooter in the mall, someone choking in the booth next to you, or a natural disaster, an emergency scenario can blindside you without a moment’s notice. The main problem is that the police, fire, and paramedics might be minutes away or an hour, depending on many factors. Calling 911 is always the best procedure, but when you are faced with a sudden emergency, you might still be on your own for an unknown amount of time. You’ll be the first responder because you were there first. So, what do you do when the blood flows or the heart stops or when someone near you becomes a victim of random happenstance.
The “Golden Hour” was first described by R Adams Cowley, MD, at the Baltimore University of Maryland Medical Center. From his personal experiences and observations in post-World War II Europe and then in Baltimore in the 1960s, Dr. Cowley recognized that the sooner a victim of an emergency reached definitive care—mainly if they arrived within 60 minutes of being injured—the better their chance of survival.
Because of this, you need to act quickly to determine the problem, find a solution, and implement that solution. Step one is to call 911.
Designated as the Universal Emergency Number for everyone in the United States, 911 was introduced by AT&T and the FCC in 1968. The number was chosen because it was short, easy to remember, and easy to dial quickly. It was never used as an area code or a service code by any phone company. Soon after that, on February 16, 1968, Senator Rankin Fite of Alabama made the first 911 call in the United States to test the operation. However, by 1987, only 50 percent of the country was equipped to use 911. Today, of course, every phone in the U.S. can reach 911. Even cell phones that are not subscribed to or supported by a specific carrier can dial 911.
Every emergency is different. Some are mild and can be handled yourself with creative thinking and quick action. For example, if your child falls and breaks his arm, you can probably take him to the hospital quicker than an ambulance. Perhaps you’ve cut your arm. If you can stop the bleeding, a friend or family member can get you medical treatment. 911 is for genuine emergencies that have spiraled entirely out of your control. They are multiple injuries in a car accident or trauma where the victim cannot be moved without help or further damage. Calling 911 is for intruders, crime, and societal ills that you are not prepared to handle. Of course, calling 911 should be your go-to move, as it is better to be safe and overly cautious than to be sorry.
When an emergency occurs, panic usually follows as the mind races to comprehend the circumstance and attempts to fix the problem. The first thing you need to do is remain calm; you’re no good to anyone if you can’t think clearly. Pick up the phone and dial 911.
The operator or dispatcher will ask, “What is your emergency?” In as few words as possible, tell them where you are and the nature of the emergency. “I’m in Los Angeles, and I’m at the car accident scene with injuries.” There will be follow-up questions. Let them ask as many as they need—their professionals who do this all day long. Be patient. Speak clearly. Give as many details as you can to each question; the more information they have, the better service they can provide.
Know where you are accurately. Be able to describe people (if there was a crime involved) and actions. This includes their race, sex, age, height and weight, the color of hair, description of clothing, and presence of a hat, glasses, tattoos, or facial hair. Are there vehicles involved? You’ll need to describe them too. This includes the color, year, make, model, and type of vehicle (sedan, pick-up, SUV, van, tanker truck, etc.). If the car is moving or has left, the call-taker will need to know the last direction. The calls are recorded and used in court, so everything you say can be admitted as evidence.
Don’t hang up the phone until the dispatcher tells you to. They might keep you on the line if your location is difficult to get to or there are further details they might need or if you might be in danger.
Not all phones are created equal. Believe it or not, people still use landlines connected to telephone poles. When one calls 911 from a landline, the computer system used by dispatchers can pinpoint that phone’s exact location, but with a cell phone, it is different. You are sending signals through the air. The tower that picks up your phone’s signal may be near or not. That’s not enough information for the dispatcher to find you. Because of this, it is essential to tell the dispatcher the city you are calling from and then the type of emergency you’re experiencing. Once they know this, they can better transfer you to the appropriate service.
Don’t immediately leave. You’ve been permitted to hang up, and the emergency services are present. You are the reporting party; the incident commander—the officer in charge of the accident—might have questions. You’ll need to repeat everything you said to the 911 dispatcher. Give your contact information in case there are further questions.
Being a first responder is an important task you don’t know if you have the stomach or the nerve for until an emergency is thrust upon you. You’ll know what to do if you’re rational, calm, calculating, and relaxed under pressure. However, calling 911 is a lifeline for us to use in any emergency scenario.