If a burglar breaks into your house, your neighbor keels over in her yard or you witness a major car crash, it’s a no-brainer: you call 911. But in cases of other emergencies, it’s not as obvious when, and not when, to dial those digits.
The general rule: Dial 911 any time there’s a threat to life or property — such as an accident, a crime, a fire or a medical emergency, says Ty Wooten, education director for the National Emergency Number Association, also known as the 911 Association.
A 911 operator can even tell you whether your problem merits a call to 911. So when in doubt, always call. “That’s why we’re here,” Wooten says. “It’s better to be on the safe side.”
When to call 911
Don’t hesitate to dial 911 if:
*A fire breaks out. Any fire — even a tiny grease fire in your kitchen — merits a 911 call. A fire can grow and spread rapidly, so call right away even if you think you can put out the flames on your own.
*A medical emergency happens: Call 911 immediately for any life-threatening medical problems. These include chest pain, choking, difficulty speaking, drowning, numbness, poisoning, sudden intense pain, severe burns, a suicide threat and other serious medical problems, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.
*You witness a crime or possible crime: If you see an assault, a burglary or even a suspicious person lurking, call 911. Go with your gut feeling. It’s better to call for help now than to have police show up later to ask if you saw anything because they’re investigating a break-in up the street, or an assault that happened earlier. If you call right away an officer might catch the criminal in the act and prevent the crime from occurring.
*If you’re in or you see a car crash: Call 911, especially if someone is hurt or feels dizzy or unwell. For a fender bender where you’re 100 percent sure everyone is OK, you can call the police directly.
It is always okay to call 911 for medical emergencies and for crimes in progress.
When not to call 911: A few examples would be — your teenager does not want to go to school; you locked your keys in your car; your kids are not getting along with each other, etc.
General rule of thumb to follow, trust your gut and if in doubt call 911. Remember if first responders don’t know help is needed, help probably is not coming.