8News Investigates: When Should You Call 911?

Calling 911 is almost second nature in any emergency. However, some people call when there isn’t an emergency — potentially putting lives in danger.

It starts out like a typical 911 call…

“Richmond 911, where’s your emergency?”

“Is it possible you could give me the number to the fire station?”

“Do you need the fire department?”

And then, it takes an unusual turn.

“I just want to know where they sell that firehouse sub sandwiches at because i just seen them on t.v. and I would love to have one.”

It’s not a 911 emergency, but unfortunately, dispatchers have to deal with them more often than you think. Last year, Richmond’s E-911 call center received more than 331,000 calls. Nearly 3,000 calls were hang-ups.

Stephen Willoughby, Director of Emergency Communications for the City of richmond, says that sometimes people simply don’t know that you should only call 911 if you need police, firefighters or an ambulance.

“People call 911 because we’ve ingrained it since the 80’s and even before that if you need help to call 911,” Willoughby says.

Calls without legitimacy can take dispatchers away from answering real emergencies.

“It’s costing us a lot of time and in emergency communications, time is lives.”

Rich Troshak, Chesterfield’s Director of Emergency Communications, says out of the 145,000 911 calls Chesterfield dispatchers get every year, around 11,000 were abandoned.

“We try to call them back and get them on the phone. If we can’t, if we actually have a location for them, send somebody out to check on them.”

Officials also say cell phone pocket dials are becoming a big problem as well, with dispatchers having to spend several minutes trying to figure out if it’s a real emergency call or not.
They caution people to always make sure your cell is locked when you’re not using it.

Next time you pick up the phone to dial 911, take a second to think.

If in doubt, give them a ring but always remember: “Stay on the line. Wait for someone to answer, explain the situation and we’ll try to help you.”

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