Last summer we were driving around near the cabin when we rounded the bend on a backcountry road and found ourselves disturbingly close to acres upon acres of trees that were crackling with flames. JB called 911 to report the fire and we learned that it was a controlled burn — a fact that became more obvious once we finally saw the nearby logging/fire crew on our way back out — but man, it was spooky. Loud, and not controlled-sounding at all. It felt like being close to some sort of enormous snapping monster, something that would have let out a dark sky-quaking chuckle at the thought of being told where it could go and how much it could eat.

Anyway, I was remembering that 911 call a couple days ago when I saw an ambulance go screaming by our neighborhood, and thinking how lucky I am that so far I’ve had no experience with calling in a real emergency (not counting paper jams). I asked JB if he’d ever called 911 before the fire, and he shrugged and said he thought so, he just couldn’t remember when. It seems to me that it’d be something you’d never forget, but maybe not? I’m curious: have you ever called 911? What was it for? Were you terrified?

PS: Please enjoy the fact that there is an actual top-result Internet article titled, awesomely, How To Call 911: 7 Steps (With Pictures). “Pick up the receiver. Press 9. Press 1. Press 1 again,” is step THREE. (I can’t believe it’s not a slideshow.)


112 Responses to “What is your emergency”

  1. Lawyerish on November 6th, 2013 7:56 am

    Oh, I just remembered another time! In college, I had a roommate who had been living with this guy for a while but she had broken up with him. Well, one night a few of us were hanging out in our ground-floor apartment and he just APPEARED IN OUR WINDOW and was drunkenly screaming at her and being threatening. So we called 911, and he ran, and eventually the cops caught him a few blocks away and that was kind of the end of it.

  2. H on November 6th, 2013 9:06 am

    JB’s story is unreal! How DID he forget to mention that?!

  3. Kristen on November 6th, 2013 9:21 am

    Yes, yes I have and it was terrifying. My son, the reason for the call, is fine. I am crying as I type. We had sat down one night, a few weeks before Christmas, in a rush to have a late dinner. My husband and I were rushing around because our daughter had been to riding lessons that evening and we were trying to get the kids fed, bathed and ready for bed. We were having hot dogs. I NORMALLY would ALWAYS cut up my son’s hot dog into tiny pieces. Well, in my STUPID rush I didn’t. We were eating and talking and our son laughed at something and then just stopped. He had a look of complete panic on his face that I will never forget. I jerked him up and started slapping his back in hopes to dislodge the hot dog. His lips started turning blue. Nothing has happening and he was starting to go limp. I was screaming at my husband to dial 911, but he just stood there. My daughter flew through the house and ran to her bedroom and slammed the door. I grabbed the phone and dialed 911. They were so calm asking me for my name, location, emergency. I was screaming at them that I needed instructions for the Heimlich maneuver. It seemed like I was on the phone with them for hours. I have no idea how long passed…I had walked outside in hopes to hear the sirens coming to help me help my son. We live on a farm and have a long driveway. I was afraid that they would not be able to find us…ends up they couldn’t. I pleaded with them to tell me how to preform the Heimlich maneuver on my son. They kept asking me if he was breathing and I kept telling them no! What seemed like hours later, my husband came to the front door to tell me that the hot dog was out. He had remembered as a child that he swallowed a penny and his father had grabbed his ankles and turned him upside down and the penny had fallen out. He did the same thing to my son and saved his life. The ambulance made it to my house 17 minutes later. We have since put up large reflective address numbers at the top of our driveway. They wanted to come check him out and make sure he was okay. My son was petrified and didn’t want them to touch him or come in the house. I realized at that moment that 911 can’t save you. You have to learn CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, etc to help your children or family. I remember staring at the Christmas tree and thinking how different Christmas could have been.

  4. Di on November 6th, 2013 11:18 am

    I had to call 911 once at the park, witnessing a sort of domestic altercation between two men, a woman and someone’s daughter.

    And I called just Sunday, to report a traffic barracade wrongly blocking traffic on a crowded highway

  5. pdxhadey on November 6th, 2013 12:10 pm

    I really had to think about this one for a bit, but I think I’ve called 911 (on purpose) 4 times in my life.

    When I was 12 or 13 I was babysitting my neighbor’s kids (I think they were about 2 & 4 at the time), and my older brother was at the house with me playing with the kids. He was giving the younger one a “horsey back ride” when she fell off his back and landed flat on her back on the floor. I picked her up to see if she was OK and she passed out and went limp. I was absolutely terrified and called 911. Turns out she just had the wind knocked out of her and she fainted, but OMG, that was the worst experience ever.

    I called 911 twice in high school when my best friend (who had epilepsy) had a grand mal seizure at my house on 2 separate occasions. She hadn’t had one since she was a baby, so it was never anything that crossed my mind, but it was absolutely terrifying. After all was said and done she didn’t even remember what happened, but I’ll never forget it.

    A few years ago I made the call when a car driving a few car lengths in front of me lost control of his car and slammed into a telephone pole.

  6. Anonymous on November 6th, 2013 5:06 pm

    I was in 7th grade and was babysitting three kids with an older friend. The older two were probably 4 and 2 and the baby was 4 months. The parents were going to another town about an hour away. Cell phones weren’t around yet. The baby had a cough, but nothing serious. After we fed the older kids, the baby started coughing. She kept coughing and coughing and she turned red as she kept coughing. She quit and turned blue and wasn’t breathing. I flipped her over on my lap and slapped her back and she coughed and started crying. I was obviously relieved, but it was pretty unnerving. I told my friend that if it happened again, she needed to call 911. Well, it did. And she was freaking out and wouldn’t call. It was just a second that she stopped, but a second was too long for me. She begged me not to call, and I’ll never understand that. My sister’s boyfriend’s mom was a paramedic and so I got the friend to let me call her. I told her what was going on and she agreed that we should call 911 if it happened again. I double checked how to perform CPR on a baby and thanked her for her help. Not much later…yeah. The baby wasn’t breathing and was turning blue. I firmly told the friend to call 911 as I started CPR. She called her parents! She was screaming and crying and her parents headed out to where we were but told her to call 911. She finally did , but was in such a tizzy, she couldn’t tell them where we were or what was happening. Meanwhile, I got the baby breathing again and grabbed the phone to tell them where we were and what was happening. A cop showed up and radioed in that we needed the paramedics. When they arrived, the baby seemed just fine and her lungs sounded clear. I felt like maybe I had been overly dramatic as they’re telling me there’s nothing wrong. Then the baby coughed and coughed and did her turn-blue-and-quit- breathing thing right there for the nice paramedics. They got things going right away and just then, the father comes rushing in the door. I will never forget the look of fear on his face. They took the baby to the hospital which was in the town they’d just gotten back from and they ended up flying her to a hospital hours away from there. Whooping cough. About a year ago, I ran into the family while they were dropping off their daughter for college. I nearly cried when I saw her and remembered that experience. She’s perfectly fine now, but I don’t go anywhere without my babies now until they are at least six months old and even then, I’m a nervous wreck. My husband curses my babysitting days! ;)

    When I was probably 14, the little girl next door crashed on her bike. No helmet, loopy, and she had blood coming out her ear. My mom stayed with her while I called 911 and her mom came out and was mad at us for calling them (though she didn’t answer the door when my brother ran to tell her). She was fine and had just gotten cut inside her ear.

    I was probably 8 when the hunky teenage boys across the street were riding around in the back of a truck. The driver took the corner turn too fast and the older boy fell out the back. Called 911 for that. He got a trip to the ER but was fine.

  7. Jana on November 6th, 2013 8:42 pm

    So, no one else has had the problem I had? I called 911 from my cell phone for goats on the highway (??!) and it was busy. Not even, “please hold for next available operator.” Just a recorded message saying to try again later. WTF? I mean, it was just goats, but if I was having a heart attack that is not what I would want to hear.

  8. H on November 6th, 2013 9:21 pm

    Anonymous at 5:06 p.m.: What a frightening experience! Thank goodness you handled it as well as you did.

  9. agirlandaboy on November 7th, 2013 11:05 pm

    Most recently I called 911 when two guys stopped their car in front of my house and got out and screamed at each other with such fury that, given this area of Oakland, I was sure would end in gunfire. As soon as the operator picked up, they got back in and drove away.

    My husband calls 911 about crazy drivers, drunk drivers, drivers smoking weed, drivers yanking (just yesterday!), and mattresses in the middle of the road, that sort of thing. He’s Mr. Safety.

  10. Amanda on November 14th, 2013 7:21 pm

    I turned 34 this year and called 911 for the first time. 3 times. Sort of.

    The first was terrifying. While playing a game with my 5yo, I noticed my 20mo son, who had been playing with his blocks in the next room, was very quiet. I went to check on him, but could not find him. He had sneaked out the side door to go swing on the porch earlier, leaving the door ajar, but for some reason I checked the back deck where the door was closed just as it should have been. The deck leads to our pool where he was floating. I screamed, jumped in and pulled him out. He was unconscious, a little blue. I did chest compressions and he spit up water and vomit and started moaning. I ran into the house and called. I yelled what happened and our address, then had to stop and calm my screaming daughter so that I could hear the operator’s instructions.

    The ambulance came amazingly quick. By then he was still lethargic, but actually crying. At the hospital they did x-rays and warmed him up, then sent us to the children’s hospital in the city (we’re in a rural area 45 miles out) for overnight observation. By the next morning truly you would never have known anything happened, he was so completely back to normal. So much so that I began to think maybe I overreacted and he had just been knocked out when he slipped into the pool, but had luckily floated face up and not been “drowning.” I don’t know that I will ever be able to think of it without feeling sick and guilty and terrified that I can’t protect him.

    The other two times… did you know that if you push the OnStar button to report a minor accident with no injuries, regardless of whether you are involved or just a witness, they will connect you with a 911 operator? Within two weeks of my son’s accident I backed into someone’s car in a restaurant parking lot. Then a month later approaching the more congested part of the interstate on the way to work, a truck driver rear-ended a car. I could see the lady and the driver were both okay, but I started shaking as I explained the accident to the operator. At work all I could say was, “That’s three times in two months after more than 30 years of nothing. This is crazy.”

  11. Brooke on November 14th, 2013 10:07 pm


    Once, the school across the street from our house caught fire. It was a little fire, and it was summer. But it WAS summer, so no one but me was around to see it. Lord-a-mercy, the whole fires department showed up. My daughter was crying because she thought the fire would come to our house (she was like, 2 then), and the neighbor was fretting that there were all these firemen and she hadn’t even done her hair. :-)

    The next time was less fun. My Dad, his wife, and the six of my family were all at a nearby park. It adjoins a neighborhood and a lot of open space. We were all sitting around talking, when a boy of about…six? wandered into view. No one was with him, nor calling from afar. He walked right up to us, took my Dad’s hand, and pulled him to the swings. My Dad put him in a swing and pushed him and told me I ought to call 911. So I called, feeling bad that I hadn’t much information to give them. The kid seemed autistic; he didn’t speak to us at all, but was trusting and happy. So the 911 operator says, Oh, hold on, I have a missing child report and let me compare details. So I told her what the kid was wearing, about how old, hair, and all that. She says that’s the kid and that the police will be there shortly with his mother. Oh, my God, I still cry about this and it’s been about 5 years. That woman came running from the police car, pulled her son from the swing and just squeezed him. As a mom, as a human, I was so happy for her and could totally empathize with her overwhelming relief. The police told us that the boy was autistic and lived in an adjoining neighborhood. He came to this park often with his family and had just wandered up here on his own. I was so glad to be a part of finding him, and so glad that it had been us, and not some total creeper, who had found him and kept him busy while we waited for the mom to come.

  12. Jem on November 23rd, 2013 6:26 am

    Ooh fascinating stories! My favourite was the one with the guilty cat.

    I’ve called so many times I can barely remember! Like many others, my first time was as a little kid…our number in NZ is 111 and I was trying to press the 1 number and it didn’t sound like it was working so I accidentally pressed it 3 times without thinking.

    Sometimes for little things like someone walking down the motorway. Once because someone was tailgating me at really high speeds to the point I couldn’t brake because they would’ve hit me…they were targeting me, and all the other lanes were empty. They were so close behind me I couldn’t even see their license plate at the time. As soon as they stopped I pulled over and called.

    Once for finding a guy unconscious on a street with his head in the line of traffic…I just remember it took forever to find my phone in my bag. I directed some other passer-bys to help move him off the road and I put him in the recovery position, which is where I learnt that if you’re going to put someone in the recovery position, explain to them what you’re doing, because otherwise they’ll start moaning angrily.

    Once because I was downstairs at home with my Mum upstairs. It was 3am during school holidays and I suppose they thought on one was home and we’d left the light on while on holiday. I heard a huge noise upstairs and froze. I tiptoed to the stairway and called out to Mum, who didn’t know what it was either. It occurred to me I’d heard a car idling outside 5 minutes earlier but hadn’t thought much of it. We peeked and they were still outside. Flicked the lights on and off and they drove off. Found eggs and a rock in our yard the next morning so they were testing to see if anyone was home. My Mum worked night shifts so I was so glad she was home – otherwise I would have presumed there was someone upstairs (due to how the noise sounded) and run outside. We called the police the next morning because we didn’t know what had happened at the time, and called them a lot over the next couple of weeks when cars idled outside – although I suspect after that it was the poor guy delivering the newspapers via car at 5am.

    I’m sure there’s been other times too! Almost had it called for myself recently, this is quite embarrassing. I’d had a very bad flu and I’d been in bed with fever and intense migraines for 3 days. I hadn’t eaten or drunken anything that day, and I was a MESS. I’d been sobbing as I’d received some news (not THAT bad, but I was feeling crappy anyway) and so I looked awful. I live fairly high up in an apartment building and the fire alarms went off while I was home alone. I waited a minute to see if it was a false alarm, and when I realised it wasn’t, I pulled myself out of bed and suddenly panicked because I couldn’t go downstairs looking like that! So I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to fix my hair, put on clothes that didn’t smell, etc. By the time I finished, it’d been going for about 5 minutes and everyone had already evacuated. I went into the stairwell alone and started stumbling down the stairs. I made it down about 9 flights of stairs and the smell of smoke was growing stronger. Then I heard some yelling a couple of flights of stairs below me. Suddenly all the lights in the stairwell switched off – there was no external windows so I was in pitch black darkness. I had no idea what was happening, except that I couldn’t see anything and I could smell smoke. I started screaming “HELP ME” at the top of my lungs and running down the stairs in the darkness. I honestly thought I was going to die, which is ridiculous to look back on, but that’s how it felt! As I somehow managed to round a corner to head down another flight of stairs, a door opened below me and some firefighters poked their head through. By this point I was in hysterics. They’d just finished putting out the fire. I tried explaining to them that I had the flu and a migraine and hadn’t eaten and that I’m not normally such a wreck! All while bawling my eyes out and hiccupping. They offered to call me an ambulance as I was a wreck, and then when I refused, they told me to call someone to look after me and escorted me back to my apartment. I felt very silly. My boyfriend showed up to visit me from work a few minutes later. So all much ado about nothing really!

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