When NOT to call 911

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No, police officers, firefighters and paramedics will not rush to your house to find fleas, bring beer or remove an annoying husband.

Most people know this, but some do not — which is why 911 emergency medical dispatchers continue to receive the oddest of calls unrelated to actual emergencies.

Last year, 911 dispatchers with the  BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) answered more than 394,000 calls.

While many of those calls involved life-threatening situations, including cardiac arrests, childbirth and motor-vehicle accidents, some were of a decidedly less-urgent nature.

Some samples:

• I think my house is infested with fleas. Can someone come and check it out?

• I can’t get through to my cell provider. Can you help me?

• My husband is driving me crazy. I need you to take him away.

• I need you to get hold of my doctor for me. The office is closed.

• I’m out of beer.

• I swallowed toothpaste. I didn’t spit it out. Will it make me sick?

• There's a dead crow in my yard. Could I get West Nile disease from it?

• I don't need an ambulance but, if I do, how much does it cost?

• I have a doctor's appointment in the morning. Could you call me at 8:00 so I'm not late?

• What’s the phone number to the hospital nearest to me?

BCAS director of dispatch operations Gord Kirk oversees dispatch centres in Kamloops, Vancouver and Victoria, as well as the more than 240 dispatch staff who serve the province.

“It’s important to remember that we’re here to help people with emergency medical situations," Kirk said. "Calls that are inappropriate divert resources from those who need swift medical attention."

Alternatives to calling an ambulance include contacting the 811 tele-health service, visiting a walk-in clinic, making an appointment with a family doctor or visiting a hospital emergency department if necessary.


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