Firefighters, police officers, & EMTs/paramedics respond to a wide range of 911 calls. But some of these calls are not true emergencies. 

Every year, roughly 45% of all calls to 911 in the Seattle area are non-emergency (low priority), 36% are medium priority, and 18% are high priority. Non-emergency calls can overwhelm an already strained emergency response system.  

With the new year upon us and the continued challenges of a global pandemic, here is a reminder of when and when not to call 911. 

Call 911 when life and/or property is in imminent danger.

If you notice these situations, call 911:

  • Smoke and/or fire
  • Motor vehicle collision (where a person is injured and/or trapped)
  • Person is altered, confused, or has a droopy face (symptoms of stroke)
  • Person has slurred speech or any paralysis (symptoms of stroke) 
  • Person has chest pain and/or trouble breathing (symptoms of heart attack)
  • Person is seriously bleeding
  • Person has an allergic reaction
  • Person faints or collapses (symptoms of cardiac arrest)
  • Person is choking or drowning
  • Crime in progress

Emergency services are filled with people willing to help, but it’s important to also know how to help ourselves in non-emergency situations. Make sure to have a plan in place for disasters and weather events where services may be delayed or handling more serious emergencies. 

For example, knowing where your water shut-off is located (usually in a garage or back of a house) as well as your natural gas shut-off (usually at the back of a house). 

Every home should have a backup generator if the power goes out. When the “big earthquake hits,” water and gas could potentially be shut off for days or weeks. Try to have all the necessary supplies to survive without needing 911.

Some alternative resources to the 911 system for non-emergent situations:

  • If you have a cat stuck in a tree, call Canopy Cat Rescue at 1-877-721-MEOW or email
  • If you need a medication refill, call your doctor
  • If you have minor aches and pains, or cold/flu symptoms, consider calling your doctor or local urgent care
  • If a non-violent crime has previously occurred, call your local police non-emergency line or visit their website for online reporting

The situations outlined in this article are not intended to be all encompassing. When in doubt, always feel free to call 911. This simply serves as a reminder that there may be other resources or ways to get the assistance you need.

Andy Mereckis is a sophomore at Bellevue Big Picture School. Through an internship with the Duvall Fire Department, he is working on a project to help reduce non-emergency 911 calls.

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