Kids: Do you know when to call 9-1-1?

"9-1-1, what's your emergency?"

"Hello. Is my Nana there?"

This is the beginning of the real conversation by my then 5 year-old grand daughter when her mother sent her to bed early. It ended with the dispatcher asking to speak with a parent, and my daughter explaining why "K" called 9-1-1, and why she was sending "K" to bed early. Everyone in the family was embarrassed except for me. Why? Because I not only taught her how to call 9-1-1, but I also worked for 9-1-1. 

Kids call 9-1-1 all the time for a variety of reasons. Some are valid--my mom is sick, grandpa isn't waking up, mommy and daddy are fighting; and, some are not--my gold fish died, my cat is stuck in the tree, my brother won't give back my book, and yes, can I talk to my Nana, Dad, or Mom. 

9-1-1 is for emergencies that require the police, the firemen, or a paramedic to come and help. This is because something serious or dangerous has happened, and you need help right away. In order to help the dispatcher who answers the 9-1-1 call to send the right people who can help, there are three things every kid needs to know.

  1. You address. Not the P.O. Box where your parents get the mail, but your street address and the city you live in. Ex. 2011 NE Alder Street, Elm City. Some 9-1-1 centers dispatch several towns, cities, or even counties. Your exact address including whether it is a street, drive, route, avenue, or road will help them determine who the closest emergency responder is. This is doubly important if you are using a cell phone. Not all 9-1-1 centers have the capability to zero in on your location. In addition, not all cell phones have GPS which would allow them to zero in on your location. Knowing your address or exactly where you are is the single most important piece of information you can give the 9-1-1 dispatcher.
  2. What is an emergency. A cat stuck in a tree, or leaving your homework at school, or being sent to bed early are not emergencies. A fire in your house, the neighbor's house, or in your backyard is an emergency. It's also an emergency if someone is breaking into your house, or one of your parents is too sick to call themselves, or if you are lost, left alone with no word from your parents, or get injured when your parents are not at home.
  3. Never, never, never call 9-1-1 as a joke or a prank. It is against the law. It also keeps a dispatcher busy trying to determine whether or not you have a real emergency when he/she could be helping another person whose house is on fire, or who is having a heart attack.
While my grand daughter was thoroughly talked to about what is really a 9-1-1 emergency, I was not embarrassed because she remembered that 9-1-1 was a way to get help. Two years later when she was on a field trip and got separated from her class, she again called 9-1-1. She told them where she was, her name, the telephone number on the public phone she was using, and stayed on the phone with the dispatcher until a police office arrived and rejoined her with her group. I would say that was lesson learned.

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