How do you call EMS (emergency medical services)?

So just how do you call EMS (Emergency Medical Services) and what happens when you do? This is based partly on our classroom teaching (we cover this in every course) and on personal experience.

Know the number to call

How do you call EMS? The first requirement is to know the number you need. OK that sounds simple, but it varies from country to country – so if you travel, find out! Locally it’s 9-1-1 but elsewhere I’ve called 9-9-9 and 1-1-2 as well.

Not only that, but here in Canada at least it can vary with your location. In bigger urban areas (like Vancouver) you’re fine with 9-1-1 but in smaller places, say D’Arcy for example, you need a local number. It would have been on a sign at the roadside when you drove into town three days ago – did you notice? Thought not.

If you aren’t sure right now, go find someone who is and check with them. Someone’s life could depend on it. We’ll wait here while you check, it’s OK….

911Phone

Via eComm 9-1-1

Got the number for the emergency medical services? Great! Now, will it work…?

OK, OK so if you have a regular land-line in your home then it should be just fine. What happens at work? It may be easy for you, or not. Do you need an extra number for an outside line? Perhaps that makes it 9-9-1-1? If you work at a large organisation as I do, perhaps you call someone else first. We’re expected to call the Security team and let them organise everything while we deal with the accident/injury. So from the phone next to me I actually call 5-8-0-0. So how do you call EMS? – Step 1 is to know the number for your emergency medical services.

Know who to ask for

When you call EMS, you typically don’t get through to the ambulance crew who’ll arrive on your doorstep. You get through to dispatch (like an operator for all emergency services). Depending on where you’re calling from and who is available locally, they’ll ask you if you want “Police, Fire or Ambulance”? Your options when you call EMS may also include Mountain Rescue, Coast guard, etc.

As First Aid Attendants, we typically ask for the Ambulance. If you need more than one service, don’t sweat it – they actually talk to each other! Say there was a stabbing. Sure we want the ambulance to take them to hospital, but you can bet the police will roll up as well. House on fire? Sure you ask for the Fire service, but you’ll get an ambulance too.

Oh, and even if you do ask for the ambulance, and you talk to ambulance control, if the fire service can respond more rapidly, then they will do. You’ll probably get the ambulance too. So step 2 is to know who to ask for , but don’t worry about which of the emergency medical services you need.

Know what to say

So you get the right number, you call EMS, you ask for the ambulance service, you get put through, now what? Well again if you’re calling from a regular land line at home, they’ll probably ask you if your phone number is 123-4567 and your address is 123 High St. They have the technology to find you! If they haven’t got it spot on, then correct them (it’s OK to do that!) and if they haven’t found you at all, then the first thing to tell them is where you are.

Where are you? If you want an ambulance to help you, they have to be able to find you. The more details you can provide the better. At an ‘average house’ the street address might be just fine. When you’re down-town in a 33 level office building that occupies the whole block, the street address just isn’t going to be enough. Which floor? Which room? How can they most quickly get to you?

Same goes when you’re out in the country somewhere. Sure you remember the name of the nearest town (you passed 3 days ago) but that won’t be enough to find you. At the same time ‘near the tallest tree’ probably isn’t good enough either.

Try to put yourself in their place – if you had to find the location you’re in right now, what would you say? If you’re calling from a cell phone, you may need to tell them the province/state/county too. “High St, Newtown” probably exists many times over in every English speaking country.

What’s the phone number there? They like to know. That way they can call you back if you get cut off, or if they want more information, or if your point 1 (above) wasn’t accurate enough. If you don’t know the number already, hopefully it will be on the phone somewhere.

What happened? Tell them as specifically as you can, but be brief. You need to give basic information so they know how to prioritise your call against the kitten in the tree across town, but this isn’t the time to tell them about every little detail you’ve found out and what a great First Aid Attendant you are. Tell them A. any dangers – what can the ambulance crew expect? B. Is the person conscious? C. Is the person Breathing? D. Are there any life threatening injuries? That will do. Let them ask you for more details if needed. Except….

How many? If there’s more than one injured/ill person, tell them how many people are injured/ill and then repeat the step above for each person. Start with the most serious.

How old? Some towns may have a specific paediatric service.

Anything else? Anything we’ve not yet covered about the person or the situation that you think they need to know about. Really. We can’t predict everything that might happen to you in one blog post – use your own judgement too.

Don’t Hang Up

Yet. Let the emergency medical services tell you that the conversation is over. Don’t hang up just as they’re about to clarify details, or check your address again. Wait until they tell you ‘we’re done’.

So, how do you call EMS?

1. Know the number
2. Know who to ask for, but don’t worry about it
3. Know what to say
4. Let them hang up

Finally

That’s over 1000 words, when you thought the answer was ‘Dial 9-1-1’! If you’ve had to call EMS yourself, use the comment box to tell us about it. Was it what you expected? Was it like we’ve described? How is it different in other places/countries? We’d love to know. Go ahead – say something smart.

About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at UBC Hospital as a pharmacist when not busy training safety
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7 Responses to How do you call EMS (emergency medical services)?

  1. Huffygirl says:

    Wow, great advice. It’s great to have the emergency number practiced in your head, because in a crisis, one could even forget 911.

    • Tony Howarth says:

      In a crisis you could forget anything. I have some large, red 9-1-1 stickers I give to people on courses if they want to stick them on/near the phone.

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