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.
But there is the other side of the coin: people who don’t call 911 when they should. The Centers for Disease Control notes that of the 715,000 Americans who have a heart attack each year, about 525,000 are experiencing it for the first time. Many don’t know what’s happening.
Paramedic Dale Hemstalk, who works for health-care software maker Forté Holdings Inc., shared warning signs for when it’s time dial 911, including heart-attack symptoms.
For men, those tend to be pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that goes away and comes back; pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms; chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
For women, symptoms tend to be back or jaw pain, difficulty breathing, nausea or dizziness, unexplainable anxiety or fatigue, mild flu-like symptoms and palpitations, cold sweats or dizziness.
No one should hesitate to call 911 if experiencing those symptoms or other health concerns. But others need to keep the lines clear for real emergencies.