“911. How can I help you?”

That’s the reassuring voice you hear if you telephone for help in a medical emergency. The 911 operator and the responding emergency services team will help you as best they can, but there are things you can do to help them do their job. In fact, how you call 911 is just as important as actually dialing the number.

Calling for help

When dealing with an emergency, you have to take a moment to think clearly before you can help someone else. The calmer you are, the better you can handle the situation at hand. So don’t worry about stopping to take a deep breath before moving forward. When the 911 operator responds, be as specific as you can. In many areas, your call will be transferred and you may have to repeat the information. That is normal. The operator was triaging you, learning which emergency service you need.

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Know the address

It’s not unusual to visit a friend or family member for years without actually knowing the address. You know the street, you know the cross street, and you can picture it. But if you don’t know the number, you can’t direct the emergency services to your location. If this describes you, make a point of memorizing the addresses you visit on a regular basis.

Families with young children or family members who require care can post the address next to the phone. Although many 911 services can automatically detect your location, not all can, particularly if you are using a phone connected through an internet provider (VoIP) or a cell phone. Visitors, children or other family members may have difficulty remembering the exact address if they’re stressed or scared.

Listen closely to the operator

Listen closely to any questions and instructions. Depending on the emergency, the operator may tell you how to begin caring for the injured or sick person.

Do not hang up, even if you believe you’ve provided all the necessary information. Wait until you are specifically told that it’s OK to disconnect the call. The operator may want to keep the communication open or ask more questions.

Waiting for help

After you’ve made the call, the wait can seem agonizingly long, even if it’s actually only a few minutes. Unless you’ve been instructed to do something else, you can use this time to move obstructions, such as large pieces of furniture, out of the way. The emergency responders will need space to work.

Ask others to help. If you are in an apartment building with a buzzer, in an office building, or a long distance from the front door (long hallway, stairs, etc.), send someone to wait by the door to let the responders in and direct them. This can save time.

Any pets? Pets may be super friendly and loving, but in an emergency they can become aggressive trying to protect their owner. Or they may be excited by the unfamiliar activity. Protect both your pets and the emergency responders by putting the pets in another room, safely out of the way.

When help arrives

Once the responders have arrived, don’t crowd them. Too many people in the area can create confusion. If there are other people around, ask them to stay in another area. But make sure one person remains available to answer questions or relay messages.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to call for emergency medical assistance. Dealing with a medical emergency can be very stressful, but knowing how to effectively call for help and assist the responders can save valuable time – and lives.

Tips for calling for emergency help:

  • Before an emergency occurs, make sure your house number is clearly visible from the street, even at night, and from both directions of travel.
  • Apply reflective numbers, at least 3 inches tall, on the sides of a mailbox or lamppost in front of your house.
  • Offer visual clues when giving your address, such as “the house with the green shutters” or “there’s a red pickup in the driveway.”
  • Gather together any medications the sick or injured person takes, to give to the responders.
  • Don’t allow anyone to park on any side of the ambulance once it has arrived.