January 16, 2014

Editorial: When, when not, to call 911

Everyone knows you aren’t supposed to call 911 when you don’t have a real emergency. But people might not be calling when they should.

First, let’s address the issue of calls that shouldn’t be made. Most of the time, it is inadvertent, Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day tells us.

People will dial 911 by mistake, something that has increased due to cellphones. Anyone who owns one knows you can unintentionally dial numbers — sometimes by sitting on a phone tucked in your back pocket, hence the unflattering but pervasive term “butt dial.”

If people realize they have dialed 911, it is important that they stay on the line and tell dispatchers it was a mistake. You won’t get in trouble. Unfortunately, some people just hang up.

Day says they get about seven to 10 hangups a day. When that happens, dispatchers still have an obligation to make sure that it wasn’t, say, a case of someone trying to summon an ambulance and then falling to a heart attack or a person being attacked by a spouse right after dialing 911.

That means dialing the number back to verify that the caller is safe. If the person doesn’t answer after a number of tries, dispatchers have to send the police to check on the caller. Sometimes, they have to track down the owner through the phone company.

A lesser problem is people who call 911 intentionally but don’t have an emergency. Day says they have had calls from people asking for rides, wondering what time it is, wanting computer help and inquiring whether the ferry is running or the mall is open.

Sometimes the callers are inebriated, Day said. One drunk man called 911 to ask for a ride from a bar to his home nearby because his feet hurt.

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