How to make a good (911) call in a bad situation

Blog Post created by faithberry Employee on Aug 16, 2013

911None of us ever wants to have to make a 911 call.  In an emergency -- especially a wildfire emergency -- knowing how to make a good call can improve response time, make it safer for emergency responders, and even help create a much better outcome! 

It is hard to be calm when you call, so take a deep breath and if you have time, write things down such as cross streets, mile markers, license plate numbers, etc., so that you can give accurate information.  Make sure that you are a safe distance from a dangerous situation, but stay close to an injured person if it is safe for you to do so.  If you are in a building that is on fire, GET OUT and make sure others are out.  Now dial 9-1-1 in the United States.  If it does not connect immediately, do not hang up. Stay on the line; the operator will ask you what the emergency is.  Describe the emergency: Is it a fire, accident, injury?


When calling from a cell phone remember that a cell phone does not automatically give location when you call so make sure that you know your own location and the location of the incident, especially if it is a wildfire event.  Make sure that you can accurately give the location of both the fire and your location.

According to Jeri Hayes, the Emergency Communication Center Manager for the US Forest Service at the Monte Vista CAL Fire Station, some of the key information that emergency dispatchers need when you call is:

  • Name (reporting party in case we get disconnected or need better directions to the location)
  • Phone number of the reporting party (in case they need more information, they can call you back)
  • Location of where the wildfire is
  • What color the smoke is
  • Does the fire look like it is spreading?
  • Best access into the wildfire
  • Did you see anyone leaving the scene? (If so, describe them: color of clothes, height, hair color, tattoos, scars etc.)


Signage to look for when reporting location to 911 dispatcher
Stay on the line with the dispatcher until she tells you to hang up or unless you are not in a safe situation.  She will continue to give you directions and ask questions for the first responders. Try not to interrupt the dispatcher when she is talking to you.  A dispatcher may have a series of questions to ask you to help better understand the situation. Answer them all, even if they do not seem relevant to you. 

If you are traveling to another country, their emergency numbers will be different than they are in the United States.  For example, in Great Britain it is 999 and in Australia it is 000. Check to make sure that you know before you need to make a call.  Also remember never to call 911 unless it is an emergency, and always be polite on the line with the dispatcher even though you are under duress. Using profanity or harassing the dispatcher may be punishable by jail time.  Be kind to the people who are there to help us!

Make sure that you have prepared your home and family before an emergency wildfire event.  For some of the latest news and research about wildfire preparedness be sure to visit theFirebreak newsletter  and NFPA's wildland fire resources page