Important Information about When to call 9-1-1

Tips from the Fire Department

Knowing when to call, and when NOT to call, 9-1-1 for emergency services can possibly save someone’s life and knowing when NOT to call could also save someone’s life. Emergency resources are valuable, and knowing how to properly use this service is extremely important for residents. As part of a new education campaign, the Verdugo Fire Communication Center, which serves San Gabriel, has provided the following guidelines and information.

When should someone call 9-1-1? ambulances

  • If you see smoke or fire.
  • When someone’s life is threatened or in danger.
  • When someone faints or collapses.
  • When someone has persistent chest pains.
  • When someone has difficulty breathing.
  • When someone has slurred speech or any paralysis.
  • When someone’s face is drooping, or when they seem altered, incoherent or confused.
  • When there is a traffic collision with an injury.
  • Where there are wires down on the ground or street.

When you’re unsure if you should call 9-1-1, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the victim’s condition seem to be life-threatening?
  • Could moving the person on your own cause further injury?
  • Does the person need the medical skills or equipment of a paramedic or an emergency medical technician?
  • Would the distance or traffic conditions cause significant delay in getting the victim to the emergency room?
  • Could the person’s condition worsen and become life-threatening on the way to the emergency room?

When deciding whether to call 9-1-1, or to drive to the emergency room, remember that the Hospital Emergency Room always treats patients by highest priority first, whether arriving by ambulance or not. When you call 9-1-1, it activates a network of highly trained emergency medical workers and firefighters. Their time and expertise are valuable and should not be wasted on non-emergencies.

When should you NOT call 9-1-1?

  • If you need transportation to the doctor’s office or to make an appointment with a doctor.
  • If you need a medical prescription filled or lost your medication. Call your doctor for this situation.
  • For treatment of a minor cut or abrasion. Call your doctor or go to Urgent Care if needed.
  • When someone has cold or flu symptoms. Call your doctor for this situation.
  • For medical advice. Call your health care provider, 9-1-1 will not give any medical advice over the phone.
  • When your keys or device fall into the gutter. Call the city’s streets department to assist with retrieval.
  • When there’s a cat or animal in a tree. Place food at the bottom of the tree or call animal control.
  • When there’s a power outage. Call your power company.
  • To pay a bill.

What do I need to know when I call 9-1-1 for a fire or medical emergency?

  • Try to stay calm. Most of all, try not to yell or scream.
  • When you call 9-1-1 there are several things that 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers will ask:
    • The street numbers and street name. If there aren’t any street numbers, then the names of the streets that cross each other.
    • If the address is an apartment or condominium or multi-story building, what number or letter or floor is the problem on.
    • The names of the nearest cross streets.
    • The phone number that is being used to call from or the phone number where 9-1-1 can call back if there’s a need for more information.
    • If the situation is for the fire department or paramedics.
    • If the situation is for the Fire Department, we might ask:
      • What is on fire? Can you describe what you see? Smoke, flames?
      • Is anyone trapped?
      • If the situation is for the paramedics, we might ask:
        • Is the patient/victim male or female?
        • What is the patient’s age? If not sure, how old do they appear?
        • Is the patient conscious?
        • Is the patient having difficulty breathing?
        • Is the patient they having any pain? If so, where is the pain?

firetruckThese are just some of the questions that will be asked each and every time someone calls 9-1-1. We understand that, especially in a stressful emergency situation, these questions can seem frustrating. However, the 9-1-1 call taker is merely trying to get help to you as quickly as possible. The 9-1-1 call takers are often already dispatching lifesaving personnel and equipment, once they have the incident address and basic incident information. The additional information that 9-1-1 call takers gather while you’re still on the phone will help first responders once they get to the scene.

Please, do not ask the 9-1-1 call taker to “just hurry up.” Always, stay on the phone until the dispatcher says you can hang up. They may have you stay on the line to get further information, or more importantly, to give you instructions on how to help the patient until help arrives.

Is there a difference in what type of phone I use when calling 9-1-1?

Yes, there is a difference. When someone calls 9-1-1 from a house or business, generally, the house or business address will display on our 9-1-1 computer system. Call takers will still ask you to confirm the address.

It is important to always remember that there can be human error with how an address is stored in the 9-1-1 database system and 9-1-1 call takers want to be sure that the address they see is the same location where help is needed. In fact, in Los Angeles County, there are approximately 40,000 changes to the 9-1-1 database each and every day, due to people moving and address or billing corrections. So, always know that this question will be asked when you dial 9-1-1.

If you are calling from a cellular phone, you may be routed to the closest PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point). If you are either on or adjacent to a freeway, your call could be routed to the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Give the CHP the location and direction of travel and where help is needed and what type of help is needed. Your call may be also directed to the local police department. Advise them that you need either the fire department or the paramedics and you may be transferred to the Fire/EMS Dispatch Center.

When you call on a cellular phone, the 9-1-1 call taker does not know your location. Cellular phones can provide a general area, but not specifically. You will need to be prepared to give your location and the location or address of the incident, if it isn’t the same as where you are calling from.

If you have a residential VOIP phone or VOIP service, also known as Voice Over Internet Phone, and you move from one location to another, you will need to remember to update your registered address by going online to manage your VOIP subscription or calling your VOIP provider.

If you call 9-1-1, your VOIP call will be routed to the last registered location you have associated with your number. Meaning, if you moved from one state to another state, and you didn’t update the registry, your 9-1-1 call will arrive at the 9-1-1 center in your previous state and the receiving 9-1-1 center will have no ability to transfer your call back to your state or know the closest 9-1-1 center to your new location.

If you have VOIP for business, you must dial a 10-digit emergency number for your local police or fire department. Dialing 9-1-1 is not currently allowed for VOIP for business due to current technology limitations.

Medical Alarms:

If you have a medical alarm pendant and are able to reach the phone, please call 9-1-1 from the phone in an emergency. There can be a time delay if you press your pendant and wait for your medical alarm company. Use the pendant if you are unable to reach a phone and need assistance.

What if I don’t speak English?firefighters

If you don’t speak English, don’t worry, there are language interpreters to assist. If you call your relative and tell them to call us, we will still need to get your phone number and call you back with an interpreter to get more information. It is simply faster to just call 9-1-1 yourself and let us know the language you need and we will connect you and send you help. Never be afraid to call 9-1-1. If you are unsure and feel you need medical help or have a fire always call 9-1-1.

For more information, contact the San Gabriel Fire Department at 626.308.2880 or email

Tips from the Police Department

Here are a few things you can do to help emergency services respond to your emergency in a timely manner:

Display Your House Number

Make sure your address is displayed so that emergency responders can find your home quickly in an emergency.  Display numbers so they do not blend with the home and be sure they are visible in the dark and from the street.

Know Where You Are

Know the nearest cross streets for your address. This will assist emergency responders in locating your home. Post your address and emergency information near the telephone to assist children or visitors in an emergency.

Educate Your Children

Remind children that 911 is to be used only in an emergency and that it is NOT a toy. Disconnect the phone line and have them practice calling 911. Teach them their address and phone number. This information is not only helpful during an emergency at home, but can also be important if they ever get lost. Act out scenarios where they may need to call 911 for help. Have yourself or someone else act as the 911 operator, ask questions like "What is your emergency? What is your name? What is your address? What is your phone number?” Remind them not to hang up the phone until told to do so by the 911 operator.

When to Call 911

911 should be used for reporting fire, medical or police emergencies only. If the situation presents an immediate threat to you or someone else's life or property, call 911 immediately! Keep in mind that there are only a limited number of 911 lines designated to each agency. By utilizing 911 during a non-emergency situation, you may be preventing someone with an actual emergency the ability to obtain help.

Reporting an Emergency

When reporting an emergency, try to remain as calm as possible. If necessary, take a deep breath and try to speak clearly. Immediately tell the 911 dispatcher the nature of your emergency: "I need the police, fire or paramedics." This is important since you may need to be transferred to the appropriate agency.

Be prepared to provide the following information:
  1. Location of the emergency
  2. Location you are calling from (if different)
  3. Name, home address & telephone number
  4. Details of the emergency (keep details short and to the point)
  5. If medical emergency; condition of the subject (sex, age, medical complaint or condition, are they breathing & conscious? Any information on drugs or alcohol that may be in there system, allergies etc.
  6. If fire emergency; what is on fire? (Structure, vehicle, vegetation, trash etc.) If it is the structure you are calling from, GET OUT!
  7. Details, names, descriptions of any persons or vehicles involved in the incident.
  8. Any other information requested by the 911 dispatcher.


Follow any instructions given to you by the 911 dispatcher unless doing so would put yourself or others in danger. You may be required to administer lifesaving medical treatment or to remove yourself or others from a potentially dangerous situation. You might be asked to open or unlock your front door or wait for responding emergency personnel. Stay on the line until instructed to disconnect.

When faced with an emergency, every second counts, and a few moments can seem like a lifetime when waiting for help. At times the questions the dispatcher may ask you may seem unnecessary and unimportant. Keep in mind that these questions are necessary in order provide the best course of action for your situation. Often emergency personnel may already be responding while the 911 dispatcher still has you on the line. Be patient when you are asked to be placed on hold. The dispatcher may be dispatching the information via radio to the responding personnel or may have another emergency that also needs attention.

Answer all questions honestly, directly and quickly. Do not embellish or fabricate information because you think it may accomplish a faster response. Reporting a false emergency or misuse of 911 is a crime and you may inadvertently prevent someone else from obtaining emergency assistance. You may also be placing an innocent party in danger or under unnecessary suspicion.

Try not to yell, use profanity or be discourteous to the 911 dispatcher; their jobs are difficult and stressful enough. If you feel any emergency responder has treated you unfairly or unprofessionally, you have the right to file a complaint with their agency.

Speak plain English. If you do not speak English, the San Gabriel Police Department uses a translator service through AT&T that communicates in many languages. Do not use codes. Each agency uses different codes. What might mean something to one agency can mean something totally different to another.  It is okay, however, to use phonetics or spell out names with common words (example: ‘a’ as in apple, ‘b’ as in boy, or ‘c’ as in cat). This can help avoid any confusion or misinterpreted information.

You may be faced with situation in which you are unable to remain on the 911 line to answer questions. If this is the case dial 911, provide as much information as possible, and leave the line open until help arrives.  Following the above tips will help emergency responders in San Gabriel provide you with emergency services in a timely manner. 

For more information, call 626.308.2828.