MEDICAL EMERGENCIES: When to call and what to expect, when
you dial 9-1-1 and, what to do before help arrives.

©2003 ASHI/NAED.


It is estimated that on the average, every individual in the U.S. or Canada will call

for emergency assistance at least twice during their lifetime. Fear and helplessness

can be reduced or eliminated by knowing when to call and what to expect when you

phone 9-1-1 .That is the purpose of this complimentary brochure produced by two

nationally recognized training organizations, the National Academy of Emergency

Dispatch and the American Safety &Health Institute.


What To Expect When You Call 9-1-1

Typically, a professional emergency dispatcher with specialized training to deal with

crises over the phone will answer your call to 9-1-1. Be prepared to briefly explain

what your exact situation is. Many dispatchers today are trained to provide real-time

instruction in CPR and life-saving first aid while simultaneously dispatching

Emergency Medical Service (EMS) professionals to your location. Listen to the

dispatcher and follow their instructions.

Most public safety agencies have access to a variety of highly trained personnel,

specialized equipment, and vehicles. To ensure that the right people with the right

equipment are sent to the correct location, the 9-1-1 dispatcher must ask you

specific questions. Sometimes in an emergency, it may seem like these questions are

being asked to determine whether or not you need help. In actuality, they are being

asked to determine the level of help you need. Remember, trained dispatchers never

ask questions that are unnecessary.



The dispatcher will always ask you to say the address of the emergency and your

callback number for verification. Having you say it to them (or say it twice if they

don’t have a computerized 9-1-1 screen) must always done to be sure it is heard and

copied down correctly by the dispatcher. They know how important it is to do it

“right” and not just “fast”.

There are four universal questions the dispatcher needs in order to put their

knowledge and experience to work for you quickly and effectively after the address

and callback telephone number of the emergency have been verified as correct:


Person’s problem or the type of incident  (“Tell me exactly what happened?”).

Approximate age.

Is he or she conscious?

Is he or she breathing?


Getting this critical information from the caller typically takes less than 30 seconds.

After that, you may be asked to do nothing, get out of an unsafe environment, or

stay on the line and assist in providing care for the ill or injured person. Working

with 9-1-1 callers, EMDs who are dispatchers trained to provide telephone instruction

in CPR and life-saving first aid have helped to save thousands of lives during the first

five to ten minutes of the call



In all cases,

remember the most important thing you can do when calling 9-1-1 is to LISTEN

CAREFULLY. Always do whatever the dispatcher asks you to do. Don’t tell them to

“hurry”. They already know that. Every question they ask has an important reason.

That’s why it’s in their protocol.



Dialing 9-1-1 On A Cell Phone

The use of cellular phones to activate EMS is growing very quickly. However, at the

current time, wireless technology is ahead of public service capabilities.

It is important to know that the system that identifies a caller’s location and

telephone number currently does not work with wireless phones. This makes it

difficult or impossible to send help to people who cannot identify their location. If you

are calling from a cell phone and do not know your location, the dispatcher will work

with you to help determine your exact location or where to send help.

A federal government project is underway to make sure calls for help made from cell

phones in the United States will be routed to the closest public safety agency for

proper dispatch and that their location can be more accurately determined.


It is highly recommended that you take a certified course in CPR and first aid. Even

when highly trained dispatchers (EMDs) and EMS professionals are readily accessible

in the community, prompt, properly administered first aid care still can mean the

difference between life and death, rapid vs. prolonged recovery, and temporary vs.

permanent disability. These courses are available through authorized

Safety and Health Institute



In summary

Simply knowing when to call and what to expect when you phone 9-1-1

can help reduce fear and helplessness in an emergency. When calling 9-1-1, keep in

mind that the most important think you can do is to LISTEN CAREFULLY and DO

EXACTLY what the dispatcher asks you to do. Emergency service professionals are

normally always available to assist you through times of crisis, confusion, and


Let them be your lifeline.

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