EMS1.com has an article syndicated from the New York Post called Unusual 911 calls flooded FDNY during blizzard. The article highlights a couple reported 911 calls (it seems to be anecdotal reporting) for the typical stubbed toe and the child who refused to do his homework. They also report on a 2-month old bleeding from the mouth (who actually was after a tumble) and a man who after waiting for a city bus for 2 hours called because he was “freezing” (which after waiting for 2 hours in the blizzard may very well have been true) but those calls were also considered “unusual” or not a “priority” for resources during the blizzard. As Frank Dwyer, a FDNY spokeman, points out in the article it is indeed hard to assess a patient’s true condition over the phone.
The truth is that these “unusual” calls really aren’t that unusual and don’t just happen at the height of a crisis. Take for instance the case of the 4-year old looking to get an urgent message to Santa Clause. In the 4-year olds mind the naughty behaviour of his father was in fact an emergency and he correctly deducted that the right person to inform was the one agency who deals in naughty and nice, the North Pole. So how else would you reach the North Pole in an emergency? Call 9-1-1 of course! Because that is the number you use in any emergency, right?
The article on EMS1.com seems to be trying to explain away the systematic failure of EMS during the blizzard and blame the citizens who utilized the service. In reality it is proof that the public education campaign to “Call 911 In An Emergency” has been a resounding success. For that matter, it may have been TOO successful.
So how do we reduce these unusual, usually low priority, 911 calls? If public education worked the first time, then perhaps we need to use public education again to educate on what is an emergent priority and what is not.
Perhaps we need to take the time to explain to our communities the limitations of the system in what we can and cannot do. Is this something we already do? More importantly, is that communication as effective as the original campaign? Or is it time that we expand the services of 911 itself to include more than just Police, Fire, and EMS?
Perhaps we need to punish those who use 911 for these low priority calls? There are communities with laws against false reporting, so what about laws or ordinances against reporting low priorities as high priorities or for services that we do not provide. Is it a reasonable expectation for us to make of the public to know what we do and do not do?
Or, perhaps we need to just accept these calls as unusual but inevitable. Then those in true need of emergency services do not fall through the cracks and end up not calling in what we would consider a high priority for fear of using 911 in a low priority situation. That is always my greatest concern when these discussions come up.
I don’t know what the clear answer is, or if there is a one size fits all answer for every community, but I am open for suggestions so feel free to leave a comment with yours…