How fast is help on the way in emergencies? Can you text 911? We took questions to 1st responders

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Friday, September 29, 2023
Dispatchers share the best ways you can help them help you
Help 911 dispatchers help YOU. Here, we get advice directly from first responders, who can help with more than you may realize.

When you call 911, you want help sent to you immediately, but first responders might need some help from you, too.

ABC13 talked to dispatchers who work 24-hour shifts to serve parts of Harris, Fort Bend, and Brazoria Counties. They said one of the biggest things they want the public to know is while they're getting information from you about the problem, help is already on the way.

A lot of times, people call and want to get off the phone quickly thinking it delays the response.

"All these additional questions or information that we're looking for from the caller is not delaying help being sent at all. That help is already on the way while we're trying to obtain additional information in case we need to dispatch extra resources," explained Ryan McKnight, communications director for Harris and Fort Bend Emergency Services District 100. "We're not looking to question you, we're not doubting you, we just want to make sure that we send the appropriate amount of help in the fastest time."

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McKnight started as a dispatcher in 2009 and ended up falling in love with the role, which admittedly, can take an emotional toll.

At this center in particular, dispatchers work 24-hour shifts.

Shift changes occur at 8 a.m., and dispatchers get a much-needed hour break during the day to step away and decompress.

After working those 24-hour shifts, they get the next 72 hours off, which are vital to helping dispatchers reset and care for their own mental health after being the ones who usually hear about emergencies first.

If you do call, it's important to ensure that you have clearly given them your address. In addition, make sure your address number is visible from the street.

If someone is available, you can have them stand outside to flag first responders.

Dispatchers shared that even children have called on multiple occasions for their parents or grandparents, so it helps for your child to know their address.

If the person you're calling for regularly takes medication, consider keeping a list of that medicine easily accessible, like on the fridge, so medical personnel can find it.

And if you're calling 911, and you're on the road, try to find freeway markers or exit signs.

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The team is trained in advanced medical and fire dispatching protocols, so they can walk you through quite a bit, including CPR, childbirth, if a baby stops breathing, getting out of a building if it's on fire, sinking vehicles, even if the accelerator in your car gets stuck.

"The biggest thing is once you say, 'Ma'am, I do have help on the way,' you can feel that sense of relief in the caller, and they'll relax a little bit more because we're able to give them CPR instructions. We're able to help with the obstruction of the choking, we're able to say don't put the spoon in the mouth on the seizure, the old wives tale that people would do," dispatcher Monica Bryson said.

"Don't do the brown paper bag, slapping them on the back," Bryson continued. "Listen to what we're telling you because we have the stuff here to walk them through almost all of their emergencies. Even a ring on the finger. Don't try to pull it off. Sometimes you can do more damage than good."

Bryson started in EMS in 1998 before moving to the 911 call center some time later.

"Of course you still have the adrenaline rush, but we're there in the person's first sign of an emergency, so we have to do our best to retain our composure," Bryson told ABC13. "If we're frantic, it's going to make our callers more frantic, so we have to remain calm, reassure that mom that help is on the way or that dad or what have you that help is on the way to the caller."

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The dispatch center can also connect non-English speakers who call 911 with language translation services, so they can still get help.

Lastly, you can text 911.

"It works the same way as essentially a regular 911 call. The text goes to a primary answering point, they get a notification that they have a text chat, it pops up on their screen, and they get the information, and if they need to transfer it to us then they will do that, and it goes the same way like a 911 call. Just texting," McKnight said.

Dispatchers can get more information from you when you call, but if you're unable to talk for some reason, texting still works.

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