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When to Call 9-1-1


Dialing 9-1-1 will provide you with direct access to all emergency service providers in British Columbia, including Ambulance, Police, and Fire.

You can dial 9-1-1 from any telephone.

9-1-1 provides priority access to emergency services and should only be used when immediate response is required. 

Here are some examples of when you should call 9-1-1 for emergency medical care:

  • When there is chest pain or tightness
  • Choking or breathing difficulties
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Signs of a stroke
  • Severe burns
  • Convulsions that are not stopping
  • A drowning
  • A severe allergic reaction
  • A serious head injury
  • Major bleeding
If in doubt about whether you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.

If you are not experiencing a medical emergency, call 8-1-1 for confidential health information and advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Non-emergency alternatives for your health concerns:

  • Call 8-1-1 to speak with a nurse or other health expert  
  • Visit the website and use their Interactive Symptom Checker.
  • Visit an urgent care centre or clinic if you can do it safely. 
  • Call a pharmacist if you have a question or concern about a prescription.
  • Call the B.C. Poison Control Centre if you suspect someone has been poisoned with a medicine, chemical or substance. 604.682.5050 or 1-800-567-8911
  • Mental health concerns: If someone is in immediate danger of hurting themselves, you should call 9-1-1 and we will help you. For mental health support where there is no immediate risk to someone’s safety, call the Crisis Centre’s line at 310-6789 (no area code needed). If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, but it is not an immediate risk, they can call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE) or call a local crisis centre. 
When you contact 9-1-1, be prepared to answer questions, listen carefully, speak clearly and try to remain calm. 

BC Ambulance Service emergency medical call-takers are experienced ‘question askers’. Their persistence provides specific information to the attending paramedics. 

The call-taker will ask you for the following information:

  • The location of the emergency (so we know where to send the ambulance)
  • The apartment number and access code if applicable
  • A telephone number (so we can contact you if the call is cut off)
  • A description of what is happening
While the ambulance is travelling to the location, the call-taker will ask you some simple questions about the condition of the patient. This will help the paramedics understand the details of the situation. 

Some examples of the questions you may be asked are:

  • Is the patient conscious?
  • Is the patient breathing?
  • Does the patient have chest pain?
  • Is there any severe bleeding?
Call-takers need to ask you specific questions in a specific order to help you as quickly and effectively as possible. 

Remain on the line to provide additional information if requested to do so by the call-taker.
  • Clear a path to the patient (move furniture and unlock doors)
  • If possible have someone wait outside to meet the ambulance
  • Be sure your house number is clearly visible from the street
  • If you live in a house, turn on the outside lights at night
  • If you live in an apartment, try to meet the ambulance at the lobby door and have the elevator ready
  • Do not move the patient, unless their life is threatened
  • If you have a dog, put them away in a separate room if possible

VoIP phones

Internet and cable-based telephones, also known as voice over internet protocol (VoIP) or broadband telephones, look and function like traditional telephones, but use a high-speed internet or cable connection to make and receive calls. 

Like a computer, these phones are not associated with a fixed physical address. This can present challenges for emergency service providers, as some internet phones use technology that does not transfer important safety information such as home address and telephone numbers to 9-1-1 call centres.

9-1-1 calls placed from VoIP phones are generally routed to a third-party service provider that in turn transfers the call to the closest 9-1-1 centre, but without address information. BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) advises British Columbians who use internet or cable-based phones to contact their VoIP phone providers to find out what emergency features are included in their package or offered by the company.
SOURCE: When to Call 9-1-1 ( )
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