I Never Thought I’d Have to Call 9-1-1… and Then Someone Needed to Call For Me
I will always admit that before working with public safety, I never thought about dialing 9-1-1. I knew I could call it in an emergency, but I never thought much about how it actually worked. Well, that certainly has changed. Since I began working with Smart911 I have learned all about 9-1-1 agencies and the difficulties they can face receiving emergency calls. From getting little to no location information on cell phone calls, to callers being too panicked to effectively communicate. That’s why this past weekend, when I was involved in a situation with 9-1-1, it was a completely different experience for me.
On Sunday I was competing in a triathlon with two friends, as a relay, and I was doing the bike course- a 12 mile route that I had ridden
a few times before. I was comfortable with the route, had all of my gear on including helmet and gloves and after the first 2 miles was feeling comfortable and confident. And that’s when it happened. On a slight downhill just before the largest uphill of the course I found myself on the inside lane of a small pack of racers. In a matter of seconds I realized the woman just in front of me on the outside lane was braking, instead of speeding up as you normally do (and as I was doing) on a downhill. I had about 2 seconds to evaluate my options, I couldn’t brake fast enough to get on the outside lane, I was either going to crash into her, hit the brakes very hard and risk going over my handlebars, or go off road into some woods and brush that was to my right.
I chose the woods and brush. It all happened in a matter of seconds, and I don’t remember the actual fall, but the next thing I know I’m on the ground. If you’ve ever experienced a fall you know that for a few seconds you’re frozen. I was aware of all the women around me stopping their bikes to check (and the few screams of “oh no…call 9-1-1!). I figured my fall looked pretty bad so while still unable to move or talk I quickly scanned myself and didn’t think I was hurt very bad, no broken bones at least.
And then I realized, I could hear the woman standing next to me calling 9-1-1, and this bike course was tricky…at least for the 9-1-1 call takers who would be answering the call. Not only did the course run along two town lines, it crossed from Massachusetts into Connecticut and back again. And the location we were at was right at that crossing. I started thinking, ‘I wonder which 9-1-1 center the call was routed to based on the cell towers around here. She needs to tell them exactly where we are so they can transfer the call so they can dispatch the right response teams’. Of course I couldn’t communicate any of this yet, but I was desperate to let this woman know what information she needed to give to 9-1-1.
After a few minutes I was able to sit up, I still couldn’t gather myself to speak, but now I was facing the woman on the phone who was saying “I called 9-1-1, they’ll send help”. I was waving my hand and saying ‘no, no’ because that’s all I could get out to try and let her know that ‘no, wait…there’s more to it, they need more details’. Instead she said “no, she doesn’t want an ambulance” to the phone and then a second later…’click’. She hung up! Inside I was screaming “No! Dropped call!” I know this was one of the worst things you could do because the 9-1-1 call taker would then need to call back to confirm the incident, and/or send police to check the location, which they may or may now know. It turns out that wasn’t necessary since she then said “There’s an ambulance already on the course just up the street that is coming to check on you”. Whew.
As I started to stand up and walk around, thanking all the wonderful women who stopped to check on me and telling them to get going and continue their race I started thinking. ‘Wow….that was such a different experience.’ Instead of just hoping for help, I was less concerned about what had happened to me and more concerned with letting the woman know what details she need to give to 9-1-1 to facilitate a fast response.
The EMTs showed up a minute later and checked me out…amazingly I had no major injuries, not even any big scratches. I had hit my head, but my helmet took the brunt of the force and I was left with a headache. I felt good enough to continue on with the race, with firm instructions from the EMTs to stop and call 9-1-1 if I felt dizzy or needed a ride to the finish line. This of course then started another set of questions including; “Wait, what 9-1-1 center will answer my call if I am in the CT section of the course, where do they need to transfer the call?” thoughts that never would have crossed my mind a few years ago. For the record I did get checked out at the ER later and had a mild concussion, but otherwise I was very lucky.
The next day I traveled to Austin TX to speak at the 9-1-1 National Public Educators Forum. A group of over 100 9-1-1 professionals from all over the country, who were together learning about new ways and techniques to engage with and educate their community. I shared this story with them because it led me to a realization. Once you become a 9-1-1 educator, you will always be one, no matter what the situation. There are people all over the country, in every community who share that same passion and I encourage you to reach out to them, learn from them, and let them help you and your family be better prepared in the event of any emergency, whether big or small. You never know when you may be the bystander who needs to make a call from someone else.