I keep telling people who don’t work in the emergency services that when they have an occasion to call 911 in an emergency, their first inclination will be to call someone they know, love, and trust to be sure they are doing the right thing. We dispatchers have done such a great job of convincing the public that calling 911 unnecessarily could cause loss of life. People facing their first emergency call want to be sure they are doing the right thing. I think that is unfortunate, because I don’t believe that if you sincerely feel you have a 911-worthy emergency, you should be penalized. If I have another more pressing emergency come into the call center, I can put you on hold if your emergency is a much lower priority.
I am thinking about this business of calling a loved one before you call 911 because recently I had a startling example of exactly that… The 911 line rang in my Key West Police call center and when I picked up the phone the woman, as anxious as you might expect, told me she thought her father had died. “My mother called me and said she thinks Dad has passed…” I took the details as you do, told the caller to drive carefully, that we would be there to help her Mom and then I dispatched an ambulance and an engine while Nick across the room sent a couple of police officers. There was nothing necessarily suspicious about the death but that’s how we respond in Key West, even if the person is under a doctor’s care when they die.
See? Mom called her daughter who thought her father had died. She figured her Mom found him unresponsive and didn’t think to call 911 directly which would have been faster and would have helped me get details to understand more clearly what was going on at the scene. Too bad Mom didn’t call us, because as Engine 7 drily announced over the radio a couple of minutes after arrival: “Key West, it wasn’t the husband, but her dog is definitely Signal Seven.” Signal Seven is our radio code for a Death Investigation. Had Mom called me direct, I like to think we might have cleared up the mystery before dispatching units. But then again, why call 911 when it is your dog that just passed on to the Great Beyond? In this case I wasn’t surprised we didn’t get a direct call from Mom! I hope her daughter wasn’t too embarrassed by her misunderstanding when she arrived at Mom’s house to find Fire, Police, and Ambulance crews gravely commiserating over the death of the beloved family pet.