May 7, 2007
For most high school and college students in the United
States, '9-1-1' as an emergency telephone number has been a
part of their lives for as long as they can remember.
"The three-digit telephone number '9-1-1' has been
designated as the 'Universal Emergency Number,' for
citizens throughout the United States to request emergency
assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephone number
and gives the public fast and easy access to a Public
Safety Answering Point (PSAP). ... Approximately 96% of the
geographic US is covered by some type of 9-1-1."
Whether out with friends, or driving yourself to work or
school, drivers (and passengers) often wonder if the
accident they witness (or are involved in) requires a call
"A 911 emergency is a situation in which someone needs
immediate help because he or she is injured or in immediate
danger. ... Don't hesitate to call 911 if a friend has
taken drugs or done something else that's life threatening.
You may be afraid you'll get your friend in trouble, but
calling could mean the difference between life and death.
When you call 911, the emergency dispatch operator will
probably ask what, where, and who questions such as:
* 'What is the emergency?' or 'What happened?'
* 'Where are you?' or 'Where do you live?'
* 'Who needs help?' or 'Who is with you?'
Although you may feel a sense of panic when faced with an
emergency, try your best to stay in control. The operator
needs the answers to specific questions to decide what type
of emergency workers should be sent and where to send them.
Give the operator all the relevant information you can
about what the emergency is and how it happened."
If you fear that someone is injured, and you can't tell how
severely (or if you simply want help dealing with the other
driver), it can often be better to call -- just in case.
When calling about traffic accidents -- or any possible
emergencies while on the road -- most people will be
calling from their wireless phones.
"While wireless phones can be an important public safety
tool, they also create unique challenges for public safety
and emergency response personnel and for wireless service
providers. ... Because wireless 911 location information
will not be available everywhere immediately, it is
important for consumers calling 911 from wireless phones to
remember the following:
* Tell the emergency operator the location of the emergency
* Give the emergency operator your wireless phone number so
that if the call gets disconnected, the operator can call
* If your wireless phone is not 'initialized' (i.e., you do
not have a contract for service with a wireless service
provider), and your emergency call gets disconnected, you
must call the emergency operator back because he or she
does not have your telephone number and cannot contact
While people want to err on the side of caution and call if
there is the possibility of someone needing help, there can
be better ways to get the help needed without calling 911.
"* To help public safety personnel allocate emergency
resources, learn and use the designated number in your
state for highway accidents or other non life-threatening
incidents. Often, states reserve specific numbers for these
types of incidents. For example, '#77' is the number used
for highway accidents in Virginia. The number to call for
non life-threatening incidents in your state can be found
in the front of your phone book."
Over the course of a given day, a small percentage of the
cars on the road will actually get into an accident. A few
more people may witness an accident and call for emergency
Then there are those who are on the roads as police, fire,
and ambulance drivers race to the scene. When deciding what
to do when you hear those sirens, take a moment to think of
it from the perspective of the drivers and workers in those
emergency response vehicles.
"Even if you've never served as a rig's driver, you know
what it's like trying to move a car accident patient onto a
backboard then onto a gurney while feeling the wind of
passing cars on your back. If you have been an emergency
vehicle driver, then you probably have felt the frustration
of trying to maneuver an apparatus around non-yielding
motorists down your town's main thoroughfare on an
emergency call during lunchtime. Non-yielding motorists
make emergency calls hazardous not only to the responders
but to the public as well. As emergency responders, we know
that every second is precious when dealing with
life-and-death situations. So how much time are we losing
due to non-yielding motorists? How much attention is given
to the patient when we have to keep one or both eyes on
traffic coming through the emergency scene? ... Operation
POP [Pull Over, Please] has two basic messages: pull over
to the right and stop, and use caution when passing through
Anyone who has been injured (or had a loved one injured)
wants the emergency responders to focus on giving the best
possible care to those in need. Anyone who has called for
emergency help wants that help to be able to get through
traffic as quickly and easily as possible.
What should drivers do when they see the lights and/ or
hear the sirens?
"State law, and common sense, dictate that vehicles yield
to emergency vehicles that are operating their emergency
lights and siren. Emergency vehicle drivers are taught to
pass on the left whenever possible when responding in an
emergency mode. When safe, slow down, pull over to the
right, and stop. However, there are circumstances where
that may not be possible (if you car is already stopped,
and you don't have anywhere to pull over). Simply stay put
until the emergency vehicle goes around you. If you are
blocking the route of the emergency vehicle, and you are
able to pull ahead and over into a clear area, use your
turn signal to indicate your intentions, and proceed at a
safe speed. Never slam on the brakes and stop in the middle
of the road when you see apparatus approaching. Make no
sudden moves. If an emergency vehicle is approaching from
the opposite direction, you should pull over and stop. You
have no idea if they are proceeding down the road, or are
planning on turning into a driveway or intersection right
in front of you."
Be alert. The only way for drivers to know what to do, is
if they are aware of what is going on around them.
"Two people hurt in the crash were rushed to University of
Wisconsin Hospital. Both are listed in serious condition.
Emergency crews responding to the crash said they had a
difficult time getting to the scene and that they lost
valuable minutes because they couldn't get some drivers to
move out of the way. Lt. Lance Langer, of the Madison Fire
Department, said that he couldn't get his ladder truck
through, so he got out and started knocking on the windows
of vehicles blocking the way. 'I know one gentleman was on
his cell phone; another gentleman was eating a muffin,'
Langer said. Firefighters said that most of the drivers
just didn't realize that the fire department was there.
'People need to be more observant -- get off the cell
phones, get off the text messaging, pay attention to what's
going on,' Langer said."
These are extreme examples of drivers doing everything
wrong (though eating and talking on the cell phone are not
uncommon practices for many drivers). What can happen when
drivers are giving the road their full attention?
"A trucker is being hailed as a hero after he maneuvered
his rig to block the scene in Madison where three vehicles
had already crashed, killing one person, police said. ...
According to authorities, an eastbound car crossed the
median and hit two cars in the westbound lanes. ... Hanson
said that's when the trucker used his semi to block the
westbound lanes and keep other drivers from going into the
While this was a unique situation (a high-profile truck can
serve as a warning sign, while standard cars -- and in this
case a fatal, multi-car accident -- can be more difficult
to see), a truck driver who was alert is being credited
with saving lives and keeping a bad situation from getting
Questions of the Week:
What can you do if you see an accident on the road? What
can you do if you are in an accident? What do you need to
know when you call 911? What if you need help, but don't
have all the information? What can you do to help emergency
responders do their jobs more easily, more quickly, and
more effectively? What habits or behaviors can/ should you
change to make yourself a more alert driver? How might you
(and those around you) benefit if you made these changes?
If you are in the presence of an accident, what can you do
to help keep a bad situation from getting worse?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum