Dialing 911

What to Expect When You Call 911

When you need a response from public safety personnel, it’s hard to know what to say. Because our telecommunicators are not there with you physically, they will ask a lot of questions that you may think are unnecessary. It is important that you answer them, as you are the eyes and ears for our telecommunicators. It helps tremendously if you answer the questions that are asked and avoid any temptation to anticipate questions or interrupt our telecommunicator.

Some of the most important questions our telecommunicators will ask relate to descriptions, because we need you to paint a picture with your words that can be relayed to public safety personnel.

When describing a person, remember to start with race, sex, and the approximate age followed by a description of their height and weight. Then describe the person’s clothing starting at the head and going down to their toes. This is sometimes referred to as a “head-to-toe” survey and should start with their hair color (or hat if they are wearing one), followed by eye color, complexion, and then any distinguishing marks such as scars or tattoos.

Example of Good Description:

White male, late 20's, six foot, 180 pounds, black hair, dark blue coat, light blue tie, and dark blue pants.

We use the acronym CYMBOLS when describing a vehicle:

  • C – Color
  • Y – Year
  • M – Make
  • B – Build
  • O – Other attributes (includes damage or other marks that would make the vehicle unique)
  • L – License plate
  • S – State

When you should call for assistance:

  • You smell natural gas.
  • You see a trash can or dumpster fire.
  • You see a house on fire.
  • There is a person trapped in an elevator.
  • You see grass or woods on fire.
  • You see a vehicular accident.

Possible questions you may be asked when you call:

  • Where is the fire?
  • What is on fire?
  • Is there anyone trapped or injured?
  • How close is the fire to another building or structure?
  • How fast is the fire burning?
  • What size is the fire?
  • Did you see anyone start the fire on purpose?
  • What did they look like/are they still there/which direction did they leave?

Some fire departments also respond to calls for emergency medical services because they have specific training and equipment that can aid citizens in medical emergencies. Sometimes the fire department’s response time can be several minutes faster than that of EMS because they are usually closer.

By using the Emergency Medical Dispatch system to prioritize medical calls, our telecommunicators have to ask you a series of questions according to the information you tell us.

This system also provides the telecommunicators with instructions to relay to you so that you can provide emergency medical assistance to the victim until public safety personnel can arrive, such as instructions on CPR, childbirth, choking, etc. Please remember to listen for the telecommunicator's questions and answer them as accurately as possible. Also, remember to listen for and act on any instructions the telecommunicators may give you.