Only One Reason to Call 911

Why does anyone call 911?

"They're sick." "They're sad." "They're lonely." "They're stupid." "They need a ride" or "They need help." These are the most common answers I get when I ask the question in class. Each of them may carry some element of truth, but none of them gets to the real core of why people call 911; there really is only one reason: People call 911 because they believe they are in over their heads with no way out, in a situation they cannot escape without YOUR knowledge, skill, and equipment. It's a matter of perspective.

To you (and me) a fever of 103 calls for Tylenol and a tepid bath, not an ambulance. But to a 19-year-old mother of a 19-month-old baby with that temperature, it might seem like the end of the world. Likewise, a twisted ankle on a softball diamond may be nothing more than an inconvenience for us, but to the person with an unusually low pain threshold or limited education, it might seem like a compound fracture, and therein lays the difference between patient care and people care.

We can all agree that legitimate emergencies call for and receive legitimate emergency response, care, treatment, and follow-up. On the other hand, all too often, those non-emergency calls find providers lecturing, scolding, and ridiculing the callers for wasting [your] time and endangering others who may have a legitimate emergency. And that is where the system breaks down.

The concept of "People Care" is about shifting perspective, looking, if only for a moment, at the situation through the eyes of the caller and recognizing that people outside of EMS have not seen what you have seen. They do not know what you know. It’s about taking a step back and remembering that not every caller is a patient, but every caller is a person who deserves to be treated with the same respect and dignity as anyone else. The drunk in the gutter at midnight deserves the same treatment as the executive in the office tower at noon. It has been my experience that they are sometimes the same person.

It is not always easy. Heaven knows that I have manifested my own frustration on scene — that was before law school.

About the author

David Givot, Esq., graduated from the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care (formerly DFH) in June 1989 and spent most of the next decade working as a Paramedic responding to 911 in Glendale, CA, with the (then BLS only) fire department. By the end of 1998, he was traveling around the country working with distressed EMS agencies teaching improved field provider performance through better communication and leadership practices. David then moved into the position of director of operations for the largest ambulance provider in the Maryland. Now, back in Los Angeles, he has earned his law degree and is a practicing Defense Attorney still looking to the future of EMS. In addition to defending EMS Providers, both on the job and off, he has created as a vital step toward improving the state of EMS through information and education designed to protect EMS professionals - and agencies - nationwide. David is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. David can be contacted via e-mail at

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