What is taking so long? Why aren’t they here yet? Just send them!

911 telecommunicators hear this many times a day. With television programs today, sometimes reality and entertainment become overlapped or confused.

When a 911 emergency call is placed is it not like on TV. When dispatch receives a call, questions must be asked and then the responding agencies are dispatched. Certain questions must be answered before help can be sent, as in what your address is, your phone number and what the emergency is. Many people ask why 911 needs to know that, and think they should just know when a call is made.

The answers are simple: We do not have the magic of TV. Telecommunicators are very intelligent and are some of the top multi-taskers in the world, but the one thing they are not is psychic.

They ask the question of what is your address or the location of the emergency, to confirm that help from the correct fire, EMS, or police agency for that area is sent. Texas County has four ambulance bases, four different city police departments and 13 fire department areas, along with the Texas County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol and Missouri Department of Conservation that all have coverage area within the county. By knowing where the emergency is, a telecommunicator knows which one to send.

Many people say, “just send the law.” However, it is not that easy; which “law” is sent depends on what and where an incident happened. Example: A caller states that they have hit a deer on Highway 63 near Highway Z. There were no injuries involved. For this call, the Highway Patrol would be contacted and they would help this caller. If a call came in at the same location, but at a residence, and the caller is reporting that they have had items stolen, then a Texas County deputy would respond. If both calls would have happened inside of the cities of Houston, Cabool, Summersville or Licking, then a city officer would have handled them both.

What is the emergency? This question must be answered to the best of the caller’s ability, with this information, the correct agency will be sent. You would not want an officer sent to you for a broken leg, just as you would not want an ambulance to respond for your field fire.

Why do they need to know the phone number? This is in case the line is disconnected, and contact is lost they can call back if needed.

Let me explain a little more about why calling 911 is not like you witness on television. When there is an emergency on a TV show, help is always there within seconds. There always seems to be an available officer, ambulance or fire department ready to pull into the caller’s driveway.

Back to our reality in Texas County and other counties in the country. Most of our departments cover large areas with a bare amount of personnel. Every police agency takes your emergency call seriously and handles them quickly as possible. There may be some instances when one call will have higher priority than another, and they must handle them as needed.

Even though we are grateful to have four ambulances throughout the county, it only takes four emergencies within the same time frame to make it where no ambulances are available inside the county.

This can and does happen often. Texas County has very caring and hardworking EMS personnel. They are quick to respond when needed and are careful while being thorough on transport. When Texas County has no ambulance available, we are fortunate enough to have surrounding counties to help with response when possible. Texas County EMS in turn helps surrounding counties as well. You will also see a more extended time response than what you are used to if one ambulance is out. Example: If you live in the City of Licking and call for an ambulance for any emergency, and the ambulance is at base, that ambulance usually is at your house within 10 minutes from the time you placed the call. If you make the same call the next day and the ambulance is not at base and is on another call, your wait time has now increased. You will have to wait for the next closest ambulance to respond that may be from Houston or Salem – if they are available.

All the fire departments inside Texas County are operated on a volunteer basis. Not only do most of the fire departments respond to fires, they also have certified medical responders who can help until an ambulance is on scene. For the most part, there is not a firefighter at the station 24 hours a day waiting to be dispatched to a call. These hard-working men and women are usually at work, home, school events or out enjoying the day. However, when they are dispatched for a call, they drop everything to respond from wherever they may be. They then must respond to the station before going to the emergency.

They do not get paid to do this; they do it to help their communities. These volunteers train many hours to be certified, they educate our youth on fire danger and are often seen at many community events. This is all done on their own time, they do not have a paid position with the fire department, but all have hearts of gold and want to give back.

In emergency situations time does seem to stand still. The next time you think it is taking too long for someone to get to you, please remember this. All calls are answered, and you can help by remaining calm and answering any question the telecommunicator may have for you. Remember, the responders are human and are not actors. And keep in mind how long it takes to drive from place to place; the responders will be responding with urgency, but they will also be responding with caution. Look at your address; can it be seen from the roadway during all times and weather conditions?

I would like to also encourage each of you to reach out to your local fire departments and consider being a volunteer. There are endless ways to help your community and no time amount is too small.

TEXAS COUNTY 911
The Texas County Emergency Services office in Houston is funded by a 3/8-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in 2013. Assistant director Terra Culley can be reached by phone at 417-967-5309 or by email at terraculley911@hotmail.com.

Houston Herald