General Question

Jeruba's avatar

When you call 911, what do you say that makes them send paramedics instead of cops?

Asked by Jeruba (50619points) April 13th, 2016

What if the emergency is in the area of mental health or intoxication? What gets the person medical help instead of law enforcement?

Yesterday two paramedic vehicles showed up for my neighbor and took her on a gurney in an EMR van. Her sister told me that she was on an alcoholic binge, the latest of far too many, and that she (the sister) and their mother had insisted on treatment. It began with those paramedic teams.

How do you get emergency treatment for alcohol abuse that begins with paramedics and not police?

It was obviously the wrong time for me to be asking the sister such questions.

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24 Answers

kritiper's avatar

“I need an ambulance at…”

JLeslie's avatar

I would think if you voice a concern for her medical condition they will send the paramedics. Possibly, your county or city has instructions to send paramedics for overdose, whether it be alcohol or drugs. Being very drunk can be an overdose situation. It can be life threatening. Moreover, if she possibly needs a mental health referral that’s probably better done at the hospital than police station.

jca's avatar

The dispatcher might determine that the paramedics need police backup. If someone is a suicide risk, overdosing or drunk, they’d not only need medical help but there might be a situation where the police are needed for safety sake. If people are falling down drunk, the medics need more than just putting the patient on a gurney and taking them away.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Most 911 operators ask, “Police. Fire or Ambulance” or “What is your emergency” when they answer the phone.

I’ve called in a brush fire but it was on a military post (road past through the base), “Main Guard Post Fort XXXXX”; I was able to give them a mile marker and direction I was traveling in which they were very happy about.

jca's avatar

Here they say “what’s your emergency?” I guess it’s up to them and them only to determine what they’re sending.

Jeruba's avatar

Restating: I’m not planning to call anyone about my neighbor. That’s not my business.

But when someone called about my drunken neighbor, the paramedics came. Apparently her family wants her in treatment, and that’s how they got it. I saw the whole thing. There were no police on hand at all.

When I have had to make similar calls, the cops came. What’s more, when we’ve tried to take a seriously intoxicated person to the ER, they were refused.

What do I say if I don’t want the cops to come and arrest someone, but instead to send actual help?

JLeslie's avatar

@Jeruba If it’s your neighbor them my idea that your county or city automatically sends paramedics for drunkenness can’t be correct. When you called did you emphasize the person was out of control or violent?

There actually has been a lot of criticism lately about the police not handling mental illness situations appropriately. Maybe there have been some changes.

CWOTUS's avatar

Some key words that the dispatchers are trained to listen for, I think:
Medical emergency …
Need ambulance … (per @kritiper)
Specifying the type of injury: head injury; lots of blood; broken bones
And perhaps, too: Overdose

I expect “drunk” may prompt the dispatcher to question the caller whether the drunkenness could threaten others: “violent drunk”, or the victim himself: “is he conscious”. And they may also ask “Are there any weapons around?” or “Is he threatening anyone?” to determine whether or not the cops should arrive first, if that’s possible.

Jak's avatar

Maybe don’t mention that they’re drunk, just describe their behavior? You could say medical emergency, she fell down, bumped her head on the car…..or whatever. Leave alcohol completely out of the equation?

jaytkay's avatar

If you might be faced with this again, I would get in touch with an EMT and ask the question.

It seems like some police are now trained to shoot before risking getting their hair mussed.

Jeruba's avatar

@JLeslie, it is not about my neighbor.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Do you feel the police should have been there?

To answer your question, I would say if you give any indication that the person requiring help might be violent or present a risk to the paramedics or if you indicate there is any criminal activity or risk of crime, the police would be sent too. If you call up and your whole framing is around the person’s health with no mention of risk, danger or crime there would be no trigger to suggest the police are required.

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks for the help with keywords and targeted requests. I may need that information in the future.

I don’t know any paramedics or emergency response people who could answer my question.

Here’s one more try at a reiteration: If someone needs treatment for addiction, how can a family member make the process begin with an ambulance?

What I saw happen with my neighbor tells me that it’s possible. Her family wanted her in treatment, and somehow they got a county ambulance to come for her. I’m just trying to figure out how.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

The only people who could specifically tell you what the trigger words are that result in 911 operators sending the police and ambulance are people who are working for the 911 (or in my case 000) service. To avoid them doing this, you’d need to avoid saying anything that suggests to them the person needing the ambulance is likely to put the paramedics at risk. I would say you could do this by focusing specifically on the health of the person. You might avoid saying they have a mental health problem. That would open up a discussion about whether they are violent or pose some risk.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jeruba I know it’s not about your neighbor, but your neighbor does live in the same city as you. I think 911 is run by the local government not nationally, so how your 911 operators handle calls depends on the local policies and rules.

I agree with other jellies that saying you need an ambulance probably helps. However, I know usually when someone calls the police for a car accident the police, fire department, and paramedics show up. That’s what they dispatch whether you ask for all those things or not.

JLeslie's avatar

I googled and I highly recommend you read the section marked Internet Telephony on the 911 Wikipedia page. It looks like how well your 911 operator is trained depends a lot on who your phone provider is. You can read the overview and history at the top of the page also, which I found interesting.

jca's avatar

Relevant: Once, I burned something in the oven and started a small fire. I called 911 and actually put the fire out prior to help arriving. First, a state trooper showed up. My point is that I think if a cop is available, he might just show up whether you want him to or not and whether or not you think the situation warrants it. Also, he may show up whether or not he is actually dispatched.

I work for a government agency where I could ask the dispatchers the questions you ask, but it’s also possible that the answers that I get from where I work are going to be different than the criteria where you live, @Jeruba. Also, like I wrote above, it may not even be up to the caller or the dispatcher. It may be just the luck of the draw whether or not there’s a cop in the area or the cop’s supervisor tells him to take a ride over, or any other bunch of circumstances where the cop may show up whether or not you want him there or think he belongs there.

CWOTUS's avatar

Okay, to respond to the reiterated question with the specificity you’ve added, you can always call a private ambulance service for various transportation requirements. I’m not sure that you can call 911 and then specify what kind of facility the person should be taken to; that’s not how they work, since they operate from a procedures manual that will tell them to respond to various situations in preset ways, and if your choice isn’t one of those presets, then it likely won’t happen.

But I could certainly be wrong about that, because “detox” is a pretty well-known term these days. So the question might be better directed specifically to the detox or other treatment facility that you want to utilize: “How can we get our unwilling patient to your facility if we don’t have the capability to transport him ourselves?” Obviously, if money is a factor (since private ambulances are not at all cheap, and an insurance policy may not cover the cost of non-emergency transport), then that should be mentioned. I would expect that rehab facilities must get that question fairly routinely. On the other hand, since rehab involves the patient’s willing participation, maybe they expect the person to be at least marginally ambulatory and willing to be moved.

cazzie's avatar

I like our system here. We have three different numbers depending on the emergency. No confusion.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie You have to remember three numbers? I assume if you call the wrong one they help you get the right type of help? Or, do they make you call the correct number?

cazzie's avatar

We don’t find it difficult to remember three, three digit numbers. Fire is the smallest number 110, Police is next, 112 and Ambulance is 113. It goes in length of the word, see?
Here is a song we sing to kids to learn it.

I’ve never had to call it. The time I had to call the police, I had the local office’s number because it had to do with a case that was open.

janbb's avatar

When a relative who has a son with mental and substance abuse problems has had to call 911, they have always sent the police who have him admitted to a hospital for assessment. I had the impression that they were the first responders in that case in that area. I don’t know if another option was possible but I hear what you are asking.

Cupcake's avatar

I think other people have already covered it, but just to reiterate from another angle… I don’t think there is any way to ensure that the police do not arrive. Even if you specifically request an ambulance, the police can show up too. They may even show up first, depending on who was dispatched and where they were located. In addition, local rules, historical patterns and training come into play.

Great information here, though. Thank you for asking the question. It makes me a bit sad/contemplative that laymen need to arm themselves with this type of information because the people we need to help in emergencies are not always equipped to best handle them.

jaytkay's avatar

If someone needs treatment for addiction, how can a family member make the process begin with an ambulance?

Have a doctor make the call if possible.

I know this is just theory and reality is much, much tougher. I am throwing out ideas.

I was looking at a site yesterday for EMTs.(Sorry, I can’t find it today, and my browsing history isn’t saved).

There was an article for EMTs on how to keep control of the patient, specifically keeping the police on the scene at bay and getting the patient to the hospital instead of jail.

One tip was call a doctor, and have them order the patient to the hospital.

Regarding my earlier suggestion of asking an EMT – though you don’t know any, maybe you could call the local college where they train and ask for an instructor. Or stop by the firehouse and ask.

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