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The City Journals

Midvale City’s Safety tip of the month “Calling 911”

Aug 03, 2015 11:22AM ● By Bryan Scott

Safety Tips

By Emergency Manager, Jesse Valenzuela

At some point in our lives, most of us will have occasion to call for emergency services. Our first inclination is to simply pick up the phone and dial 911 because it is quick and easy. Not every call for emergency services, however, necessitates a call to 911. Here is a primer on when and how to call 911 and what to expect when you call. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines and if there is ever any doubt in your mind about the proper response to any given situation, you should always err on the side of safety.

 Depending on where you live, the dispatcher that answers your 911 call will probably handle any request for the police. If you need the fire department or EMS (Emergency Medical Services), the person answering the call may help you or you may be transferred to a fire and EMS dispatcher. Police, fire and EMS dispatchers will essentially follow the same guidelines for obtaining the location of your emergency. Once the location is verified, the dispatcher will ask specific questions related to the emergency. Fire and EMS dispatchers are specially trained to give instructions for medical emergencies and these instructions should be strictly followed without argument. They may save not only your life, but also that of someone else.

When Should You Call 911?

A good rule of thumb is to call 911 when someone’s life, safety, health, or property is in immediate jeopardy. This would include most crimes, suspicious persons or vehicles, disturbances (aside from routine noise disturbances), fights, people with weapons, suicidal persons, or any incident involving someone having a dangerous mental or emotional episode. This also means that if you need the fire department or an ambulance to respond, you should typically call 911 without hesitation.

For general utility interruptions like water line breaks, power outages, street or side walk issues and downed trees direct those calls to the local utility companies.  Midvale Public Works Department 801-256-2591, Midvale Streets Department 801-256-2592, Midvale Storm Drains 801-256-2793.

Police, fire and EMS all have non-emergency numbers that are typically listed as such. For Midvale City, the numbers are as follows: Unified Police Department 385-468-9350, Unified Fire Authority 801-743-7200, and Salt Lake County Animal Control Officer Dispatch 801-743-7045.

What to Expect
When You Call 911

Your call will be answered as quickly as possible. First of all, if you call 911 and get a busy signal or recording telling you to wait, remain as patient as possible. 911 phone systems are set up to answer calls in the order that they are received in. If you hang up and call back, you are simply putting yourself farther back in line. Waiting times on the non-emergency line can be even longer, as 911 calls are answered first. If your call can wait, try calling back later. 911 dispatchers are trained to obtain specific information regarding your emergency. They are typically referred to as the six W’s: Where, what, when, who, weapons and welfare.

Where: The first thing the dispatcher will typically ask you is the exact location of your emergency. If the emergency is in your home or business, you should be prepared to give the exact address. It’s amazing how many people don’t know their own address or the address of their workplace. If you are calling on a landline, the exact address will typically show up on the dispatch’s computers screen. Even so, the dispatcher will verify the location you are calling from. Humans enter the information in 911 systems and mistakes are sometimes made.

There are occasionally glitches in the system. The dispatcher knows this and will insist that you verbally verify your location. Technology is advancing rapidly, but most 911 centers do not have the ability to determine your exact location if you are calling from a cell phone.

Remember that apartments have a building number and street just like a single dwelling residence. Many apartment complexes have several buildings and numerous streets. They need your complete address including the apartment letter or number, if there is one. Many apartment buildings have secured entrances and require the police to be buzzed into the building or have a keypad with an entry code. Be prepared to give the dispatcher any additional information needed to get to your door. This also applies if you live in a gated community with a keypad code.

What: Tell the dispatcher exactly what you are reporting. A brief description is typically all that is necessary. The dispatcher does not need to know the circumstance that led up to whatever is occurring. Just tell him what is currently happening.

When:  Tell the dispatcher when the incident occurred or if it is in progress. In many jurisdictions, the dispatcher will ask you to stop and stay on the phone while he dispatches help with the limited information you have already provided. Be patient and stay on the line until the dispatcher returns to the phone to get additional information. Keep in mind that the dispatcher is probably talking to you on the phone and the police on the radio simultaneously.

Who: The dispatcher will ask you for a suspect information when that is relevant. This will include the number of suspects, clothing description, whether the suspects are on foot or in a vehicle, and a description of any vehicles involved. The dispatcher will also ask for the direction of travel of the suspects and vehicles if they have left the scene. Other distinguishing characteristics, such as damage to the front end or a door that is a different color from the rest of the vehicle should be noted.

Weapons: The dispatcher will ask if anyone has any weapons now or earlier in the incident.

Welfare: The dispatcher will ask if anyone needs an ambulance. Again, be aware that you may be transferred to a fire or EMS dispatcher that you should stay on the line and give the necessary information.


There are a few things to keep in mind when calling 911. First of all, keep as calm as possible and try to listen closely to the dispatcher’s questions. Keep your answers as brief as possible and don’t ramble. Try not to repeat yourself. Don’t ask the dispatcher why he is asking you certain questions. He’ll only ask for the information he needs to handle your call quickly and get help on the way to you. You are most likely going to be suffering from some amount of stress when making your call. Try to be polite to the dispatcher. Don’t say, “Just send the police!” and hang up. Don’t tell the dispatcher to hurry. 

The dispatcher is going as fast as they can and won’t get you help any sooner. The dispatcher is very concerned with the safety of the first responders to your emergency and will be very adamant about getting the information they need. Don’t take it personally if the dispatcher seems demanding or nonchalant and uncompassionate. They want to help you. Don’t try to carry on a conversation with someone else in the room while you’re on the phone with the dispatcher. Give the information asked for as accurately and as quickly as you can and you’ll get the fastest response possible.

Always keep your personal safety in mind when calling 911. Do what is necessary to keep yourself and anyone else on the premises out of harm’s way. You may need to leave the location or lock yourself in a room. The information the dispatcher is asking for is very important, but it does not supersede your safety. It is always a good idea to discuss potential emergencies with your family ahead of time. Formulate a plan that will keep everyone as safe as possible. 

Once again, these are merely guidelines and there are no hard and fast rules on when you should call 911. If you are in a situation that requires a response from public safety agency, don’t waste time debating whether or not it qualifies as an emergency. If there is the slightest doubt, make the call to 911. Just be conscious of the fact that in many instances you will get the proper response by calling the non-emergency number and allow someone in urgent need of assistance to get a quicker response.