Question of the Week

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 to 911.

"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 right away.
* Give the emergency operator your wireless phone number so that if the call gets disconnected, the operator can call you back.
* 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 you."

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 responders.

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 emergency scenes."

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 wreck."

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 worse.

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.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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