Just what should I say when calling EMS? What happens next? What else will they do/ask me? Who arrives when I call? There seem to be common themes to some of the questions people type in to a search engine before they arrive here at our site. So today’s post will deal with these. Before we get started, remember that we’re based in BC, Canada. What happens in your area could be slightly different (or even very different – perhaps you can use the comment section to tell us).

911 – Police, Fire Ambulance?

When you call 911 locally, the call taker will ask “Do you need police, fire or ambulance?” Use your judgement on this, but you’re reading a First Aid blog, so you’ll probably be asking for the Ambulance! They should also ask you which municipality (tell them, or tell them which town you’re calling from).

Canadian Forces Bison Ambulance

Canadian Forces Bison Ambulance – probably doesn’t respond to civilian 911 calls

Once the call taker knows what you need, and where, they will connect you to that service (For example, ‘the ambulance’ in ‘Whistler’ gets you connected to Whistler Ambulance service – you get the idea!) The person who answered your call will also stay on the line until the requested service actually answers your call. The whole thing should take under 30 sec and is often much quicker.
If you aren’t sure which service to ask for, they are trained to ask you a few questions and make a quick decision. And don’t worry about ‘getting it right’ – if someone at your house fire needs an ambulance too, you’ll be sure to get one. They do talk to each other!

EMS – What to say

Once you’re connected to the ambulance service, the detailed information can start. You need to tell EMS:

  • Where you are calling from
  • The phone number there
  • How many people need EMS
  • Are they conscious & breathing (or not)
  • Other details of their injury
  • Anything else you’re asked for

Tell EMS where you are

The more information you can give, the better (and more quickly) they’ll be able to find you. Street address and cross streets are a good start where applicable. Think about the  building and how the EMS crew will find you. Residential houses may be relatively easy, but once you are in a multi-story building with many rooms on each floor, much more detail will be needed.
If you’re not in a place where roads & streets apply, think about how the crew can get to you. Trail names, GPS co-ordinates, place names, landmarks, etc. “On Whistler mountain” is not going to get you a fast response – be as specific as you can. At this time, as far as I know, they don’t have the technology to do some kind of ‘reverse-GPS-look-up’ thingy on your phone’s location. Not in a way that’s going to be meaningful to your emergency, anyway.

Tell them the phone number

So that if you get cut off, or they need more information, they can call you back. Sure a land-line may have caller display, but even that can be incorrect, and your cell phone may not have.

Tell EMS about the Casualties

How many people are involved – they want to know how many ambulances to send! Is the person/people breathing or not? Conscious or not? This should be a base-line minimum of information that you have when calling. Obviously the more information you can give the better, and they will ask for sure. But if you’re involved in CPR, you may not have time for the finer points of the medical history. Tell them you’re doing CPR – they understand! Consider telling EMS if this is a baby, child, adult, elderly person – certainly in Vancouver you may be lucky enough to get a paediatric service if that’s what is needed.

Stay on the Line

Keep the connection to EMS until they tell you they’re done talking. Unless you’re a lone person dealing with a life-threatening emergency, you can spare the time. Don’t hang up the call just because you think you’re done, they may be just about to ask you something else.

Calling EMS – Who’s coming?

EMS-callWhoever is nearby. Yes, you’ll get the ambulance you asked for eventually. In my personal experience though, if there’s a fire crew closer, they’ll get there faster. (They’re big and red and make cars move!)
If your incident requires more than one service, they’ll all turn up anyway – eg: major road accidents.


Tips for calling 911