Your pulse is fast, your hands are sweaty. You grab the phone and dial 911 because you need help NOW!

Whether this is the worst moment of your life, or just a report of something unusual, calling 911 can be stress inducing. Frequently, it is known as “siren anxiety.” Understanding how the 911 system works and what to expect when you dial those three-numbers will ease some anxieties, knowing help is on the way.

If you have or see an emergency, one of the most important things you can do is immediately report the incident via 911. So, what should you know?

If you experience or see an emergency such as fire, medical, traffic collision, rescue or hazardous materials discharge, please immediately call 911. Don’t worry about getting in trouble for calling 911. Only flagrant, repeat abusers of the system are criminally prosecuted. The 911 System is for you so that your family — you and every other citizen — can quickly reach emergency assistance.

Please, also don’t believe you will get quicker service by directly calling a fire station. Doing so could be a very serious error. The fire station personnel may well not be at their fire station. They could be on another emergency, doing training, presenting a public education program or out for a multitude of other reasons.

Call 911. You will be assured of a professional answering your need.

On the mountain, 911 calls go the Primary Public Safety Answering Point, which is the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. If it is a law-enforcement emergency, the Primary PSAP will dispatch deputies to the call. If it is a fire, medical emergency, traffic collision, rescue or hazardous materials discharge, the Primary PSAP immediately transfers the call to the Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department Perris Emergency Command Center (Secondary PSAP), who also dispatches for the Idyllwild Fire Protection District.

This center is staffed 24 hours a day, every day of the week and year. Its dispatchers, certified by the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch, are ready to answer and process your call. Emergency resources are immediately sent to the incident.

For a medical emergency outside IFPD, the Perris ECC digitally transfers the patient’s transport need to American Medical Response. Within IFPD, the Perris ECC dispatches a district ambulance. Last year, the Riverside County Fire Emergency Command Center received hundreds of thousands of phone calls and processed 158,613 incidents.

“Fire Department, what is the address of the emergency?” This is the first step to getting help fast. Fire communication dispatchers will first ask for location-specific information including:

● What is the address or cross-streets of the emergency?

● What city are you in?

● Is this a house, apartment or business?

● What telephone number are you calling me from?

● What is your name?

And, finally … Tell me exactly what happened?

At this point, emergency resources are dispatched to your location.

The Perris ECC dispatcher will gather basic response information while another dispatcher pre-announces the emergency. “Pine Cove, Medical.” Fire Station 23 in Pine Cove will hear the pre-announcement and initiate response while the dispatcher will send the response tones to the fire station and to AMR.

This may seem like a long series of questions, especially when you need help now. However, extensive research has gone into these initial questions to ensure that help arrives at the correct location in the most efficient manner. Practicing and pre-planning by writing down address information at home will help both elderly and small children get through the 911 call accurately and easily.

Now that fire-department resources are on the road, the fire communication dispatcher will then ask a series of questions related to the specific emergency you are experiencing. This questioning allows the dispatcher to give life-saving directions to help the patient and update the paramedics on the way to your emergency. In time-critical emergencies, these seconds and minutes can save a life. It is important to stay calm, answer all questions and follow all directions given by the dispatcher.

Several years ago, California adopted the Enhanced 911 or E911, which automatically provides geolocation information from your phone line. Wireless or cellular services also are required to provide emergency dispatch services with geolocation information from a cellular device. As such, the emergency dispatchers can closely determine the exact location of a reported problem. Still, we must also ask reporting parties to confirm their address.

Please make sure you know how to use 911. If you even suspect you are having or an emergency exists, immediately phone 911. We want to help you as soon as is possible. Knowing what to expect and understanding the 911 system eliminates “siren anxiety”.

Since the first 911 call placed in 1968, developers have been researching the most efficient and effective format to assist the public in saving life, property and the environment. The Riverside County Fire ECC takes pride in assisting our community by using these strategies and techniques developed to get help to where you are quickly.

Much credit for this article is due to the personnel of the ECC at Perris. They make us proud every day.

John Hawkins is the fire chief for the Cal Fire Riverside Unit and Riverside County Fire Department. He is entering his 54th year with Cal Fire and has served as the fire chief for going on 11 years. Chief Hawkins values leadership, fire and life safety and community involvement. He has been involved with the Riverside County Mountain Area Fire Safety Task Force since 2004.