Public Education

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When to call 9-1-1:

Knowing when to call 9-1-1 for emergency services can possibly save someone’s life. Knowing when NOT to call could also save someone’s life, by not taking precious emergency resources that may be needed for someone with a serious injury or life threatening medical need.


  • If you see smoke or fire.
  • When someone’s life is threatened or in danger.
  • When someone faints or collapses.
  • When someone has persistent chest pains
  • When someone has difficulty breathing.
  • When someone has slurred speech or any paralysis.
  • When someone’s face is drooping, or when they seem altered, incoherent or confused.
  • When there is a traffic collision with an injury.
  • Where there are wires down on the ground or street.

When you’re unsure if you should call 9-1-1, ask yourself this:

  • Does the victim’s condition seem to be life-threatening?
  • Could moving the person on your own cause further injury?
  • Do they need the medical skills or equipment of a paramedic or an emergency medical technician?
  • Would the distance or traffic conditions cause significant delay in getting the victim to the emergency room?
  • Could their condition worsen and become life-threatening on the way to the emergency room?

When deciding whether to call 9-1-1, or to drive to the emergency room, remember that the Hospital Emergency Room always treats patients by highest priority first, whether arriving by ambulance or not.

When you call 9-1-1, it activates a network of highly trained emergency medical workers and firefighters: Their time and expertise is valuable and should not be wasted on non-emergencies.


  • When needing transportation to the doctor’s office or to make an appointment with a doctor.
  • When needing a medical prescription filled or for lost medication.
    • Call your doctor for this situation.
  • When seeking treatment for a minor cut or abrasion.
    • Call your doctor or go to Urgent Care if needed.
  • When someone has cold or flu symptoms.
    • Call your doctor for this situation.
  • For medical advice.
    • Call your health care provider, 9-1-1 will not give any medical advice over the phone.
  • When your keys or device fall into the gutter.
    • Call the city’s streets department to assist with retrieval.
  • When there’s a cat or animal in a tree.
    • Place food at the bottom of the tree or call animal control.
  • When there’s a power outage.
    • Call your power company.
  • To pay a bill.

What do I need to know when I call 9-1-1 for a Fire or Medical Emergency?:

  • Try to stay calm. Most of all, try not to yell or scream.
  • When calling 9-1-1 there are several things that 9-1-1 Call Takers and Dispatchers will need to know:
    • We need to know the street numbers and street name.  If there aren’t any street numbers, then the names of the streets that cross each other.
    • If the address is an apartment or condominium or multi-story building, we will need to know what number or letter or floor is assigned to the location of the problem.
    • The names of the nearest cross streets.
    • The phone number that is being used to call from or the phone number where 9-1-1 can call back if there’s a need for more information.
  • We need to know if the situation is for the Fire Department or Paramedics.
  • If the situation is for the Fire Department, we might ask:
    • What is on fire? Can you describe what you see? Smoke, flames? Is anyone trapped? Etc.

       - If the situation is for the Paramedics, we might ask:

    • Is the patient/victim male or female?
    • What is their age? If not sure, how old do they appear?
    • Are they conscious?
    • Are they having difficulty breathing?
    • Are they having any pain? If so, where is the pain?

Example: If someone fell. How or why did they fall? Did they pass out when they fell? Are they bleeding, and if yes, what part of their body is bleeding?

These are just some of the questions that will be asked each and every time someone calls 9-1-1. 

Do you feel frustrated by the long list of questions from 9-1-1 Call Taker? Do you feel as if they are repeating themselves? Well, we understand that it can be a very stressful time for someone calling 9-1-1 and we will get help to where it’s needed as quickly as possible.  9-1-1 Call Takers are often dispatching lifesaving personnel and equipment, once they have the incident address and basic incident information. The additional information that 9-1-1 Call Takers gather will help first responders once they get to the scene.

Please, do not ask the 9-1-1 Call Taker to “just hurry up”.  Again, generally they will have already sent the Fire Department or Paramedics, once they have confirmed the address or incident location, even though they are still speaking with you and gathering additional information.

Always, stay on the phone until the dispatcher says you can hang up.  We may have you stay on the line to get further information, or more importantly, to give you instructions on how to help the person until help arrives.

Is there a difference in what type of phone I use when calling 9-1-1?:

Yes! There is a difference!

Rotary phoneWhen someone calls 9-1-1 from a house or business, generally, the house or business address will display on our 9-1-1 computer system. Call Takers will still ask you to confirm the address.

It is important to always remember that there can be human error with how an address is stored in the 9-1-1 database system and 9-1-1 Call Takers want to be sure that the address they see is the same location where help is needed. 

In fact, in Los Angeles County, there are approximately 40,000 changes to the 9-1-1 database each and every day, due to people moving and address or billing corrections.  So, always know that this question will be asked when you dial 9-1-1.

Cell phonesIf you are calling from a cellular phone, you may be routed to the closest PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point). Depending on your location being either on or adjacent to a freeway, your call could be routed to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), or to the local police department.

If you are on or near a freeway, give the CHP the location and direction of travel and where help is needed and what type of help is needed. If you are routed to a local police department, advise them that you need either the Fire Department or the Paramedics and you may be transferred to the Fire/EMS Dispatch Center.

When you call on a cellular phone, we generally do not know your location.  Cellular phones can provide a general area to the 9-1-1 Call Taker, but not specifically. You will need to be prepared to give us your location and the location or address of the incident, if it isn’t the same as where you are calling from.

If you have a residential VOIP phone or VOIP service, also known as VoIP DiagramVoice Over Internet Phone, and you move from one location to another, you will need to remember to update your registered address by going online to manage your VOIP subscription or calling your VOIP provider.

If you should call 9-1-1, your VOIP call will be routed to the last registered location you have associated with your VOIP phone number, this includes different states. Meaning, if you moved from one state to another state, and you didn’t update the registry, your 9-1-1 call will arrive at the 9-1-1 center in your previous state…the receiving 9-1-1 center will have no ability to transfer your call back to your state or know the closest 9-1-1 center to your new location.

If you have VOIP for Business, you must dial a 10-digit emergency number for your local police or fire department.  Dialing 9-1-1 is not currently allowed for VOIP for Business due to current technology limitations.


Medical Alarms:

MedAlrIf you have a medical alarm pendant and are able to reach the phone, please call 9-1-1 from the phone if you have an emergency. There can be a time delay if you press your pendant and wait for your medical alarm company. The pendant is absolutely wonderful if you are unable to reach a phone and need assistance.

What if I don’t speak English?

If you don’t speak English, don’t worry. We have language        interpreters to assist.  If you call your relative and tell them to call us, we will still need to get your phone number and call you back with an interpreter to get more information. It is simply faster to just call 9-1-1 yourself and let us know the language you need and we will connect you and send you help.

We are always here to help and happy to do so. Never be afraid to call 9-1-1. If you are unsure and feel you need medical help or have a fire always call 9-1-1 !!