Monday, November 29, 2010

The Call

Next project: write a tutorial on how to dial 911. Not a reference volume that you haul around in a wheelbarrow, just a simple four step guide:
  1. identify the need for help
  2. pull out your trusty cell phone
  3. make the call
  4. give the dispatcher all the relevant information.
No one has trouble with steps 1-3. It's step 4 that makes me want to send people back to 911 kindergarten. Like the other day when we were paged to a vehicle in the ditch near Raith. No problem, we get these calls fairly regularly, especially since it's early in the winter, and people have forgotten how to drive in the snow (it doesn't help that last year we didn't really have winter at all. But I digress).

Experience tells us that those innocent words "vehicle in the ditch" can mean anything. Sometimes they mean a rollover. Occasionally they carry a hidden meaning of collision with an immovable object. One time they were code for head-on crash between two tractor trailers . . . and you don't want to know the rest of that story. Oft times, however, "vehicle in the ditch" simply means that someone slid off the road into the nice, cushy snow bank. Most anyone that drives in the winter knows what it's like. One minute you're headed down the road, minding your own business, and the next minute you're buried in a pillowy cloud of fluff. Embarrassing, but not life-threatening. In most cases, 1-800-TOW-TRUCK is the appropriate number, not 911. But lots of folks don't know that, because I haven't published my tutorial yet . . .

I understand that the average traveller isn't a paramedic, and isn't qualified to decide when a person needs - or doesn't need - treatment. No one wants to ask, "Excuse me sir, is your left foot normally turned around backwards?" or "Sorry to bother you ma'am, but were you born with one shoulder higher than the other?" You just don't ask those kinds of questions. If you suspect someone needs medical help, whip out your trusty cell phone faster than Wyatt Earp draws his six gun and dial 911. I'm cool with that. Even if you are in Raith, which is 50 km from Upsala.

But sometimes when the car is sitting comfortably in the feathery snow bank, and the occupants are walking around trying not to look embarrassed, it would warrant asking, "Hey dudes, are you okay?" before dialling the fateful 3 digits and dispatching a herd of ambulance, police, and fire vehicles. Especially when the snow bank is in Raith, which is 50 km from Upsala.

When our pagers go off with, "vehicle in the ditch," we have no way to analyze the situation. We can't second guess the call, because, as you now know, it could be nearly anything except a space alien's ship run aground (at least we can rule out one possibility). "Vehicle in the ditch" only means that our pagers went off, and we have to go find out what really happened. Dubious calls to Raith do elicit a fair bit of discussion, mostly because it takes 25 to 30 minutes to get there.

"It's probably just what the dispatcher said - a vehicle in the ditch."

"Maybe . . . but don't forget that time that the vehicle in the ditch was a full-blown extrication."

"Or that double fatal that came in as 'vehicle in the ditch.'"

"Yeah, but remember that time the guy pulled over to take a whiz and someone called it in as a 'vehicle in the ditch . . .'"

We'd like to blame the dispatcher, but that isn't fair. They pass along as much scanty information as can be pried from the caller.

"Fire Dispatch, what is your emergency?"

"Um, yeah, I saw a vehicle in the ditch somewhere between Upsala and Raith."

"Is anyone trapped?"

"Um . . . not sure."

"Is anyone injured?"

"How am I supposed to know? I'm not a doctor. Besides, I was driving 110 km an hour."

"Do you have any more details?"

"Yeah, it was a maroon 2006 Suburban with a 5.3 litre motor, tinted windows, and a roof rack."

"Anything else?"

"Um, yeah, it was between Upsala and Raith . . . or was it between Raith and Shabaqua . . .

And so it goes. Eventually we get there and find out what really happened. Chances are, the folks look at us all "Why the heck did a pumper, a rescue, a cruiser, and an ambulance all come blaring in when all we needed was a tow truck?" And we shrug and say, "Our pagers went off and we came . . . "

Maybe I should write a tutorial on how not to dial 911.

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