What should you do before and after calling 911?

July 6, 2022
woman speaking to EMS after calling 911.
You never know when you may need emergency medical help, but understanding what to do before and after calling 911 can make it easier for first responders to help. Photo: UCHealth.

In an emergency situation, it’s critical to call for help when needed. But before – and after – calling 911, there are steps you can take — if you are able to make them — that could make the trip to the emergency department easier.

Dr. Dave Richter, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and the medical director of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for Routt County, outlines those tips below.

Tips before and after calling 911

Have a visible address

Whether you live in a single-family home, a townhouse or a condo, make sure your house number is clearly marked so first responders can find you easily.

“We can hear when EMS gets called out, and while they may know where the place is, trying to find the specific location can be extremely difficult at times,” Richter said.

Unlock the doors

For first responders to provide help, they need to be able to enter the residence. Unlock doors, especially if you’re waiting in a back room where you may not hear emergency medical technicians arrive.

Put away pets

This tip applies to all pets, whether they’re aggressive or people-lovers. “Even if pets seem friendly, they can still get in the way,” Richter said. “And pets can escape, causing unneeded delays on the scene.”

Bring a list of current medications

Before an emergency hits, take a few minutes to list out all of your current medications, then leave the list in a place that’s easily accessible, such as on the refrigerator door or in your wallet.

“There will be times we are presented with a bunch of pill bottles or a weekly pill container with medications mixed together that we’ll have to go through,” Richter said. “If you have a list of current medications, that’s super helpful to us and can save precious time.”

Be upfront and honest with medics

People sometimes wait until they’re talking to the physician in the emergency department to reveal medical conditions or drug and alcohol use. But that can complicate care.

“Patients can sometimes be guarded with medics, but if we get differing information between medics and hospital staff, that can cause confusion and delays,” Richter said. “People should provide medical history, social history, and any drug and alcohol use up front so we can treat them correctly.”

Clear a path

If the patient isn’t mobile, it can be helpful to clear a path so medics can quickly get a stretcher into the house. “Clearing a path to the person, if time permits, is certainly helpful,” Richter said.

Be sure you’re in a safe place and stay put

As long as you’re in a safe place, it’s best to wait for help to arrive.

Richter recounts one time in which parents of a child decided to drive to meet paramedics, but since neither party knew exactly where the other was, it ended up causing a big delay.

For people living in rural areas, it may be helpful to drive to a halfway point to meet EMS, but that should be carefully arranged and communicated.

Stay on the phone

Don’t call for help then hang up in a panic. Stay on the line and follow the guidance the dispatcher provides.

“They’ll give medical advice, such as how to open the airway and start CPR, so being on the line is a huge resource,” Richter said.

Don’t forget a thank you

Once your situation is taken care of, it can be a nice gesture to thank the team that helped you through.

“A big thank you to our EMS crew is always nice, because they work hard to protect and help all of us,” Richter said.

This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at susancunninghambooks.com.