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Calling 9-1-1

When you call 911, your call is answered by an 911 dispatcher whose first responsibility is to find out if this is a true emergency-is someone injured, is there a crime in progress, is there a fire, etc.

Your address will be verified to make sure emergency responders are being sent to the correct address. 

IMPORTANT! This information must always be verified! For example, you may have just moved, or you may be in a complex (such as an apartment complex), which lists only one main address. Also, you may be calling for a situation that is occurring elsewhere, so the call-taker will want specific address information about where the problem is taking place.

If you have a phone over an internet service provider and you move, make sure to contact your provider and make sure that they have your new address assigned to your phone.

The call-taker is required to ask many questions in order to give responders an accurate picture of your situation. It is important to understand that responders may already be on the way while you are talking to the call-taker; we are updating the information as they go. It is also important not to exaggerate the emergency.

  • Listen carefully to the call-taker’s questions & try to speak clearly in a calm voice.
  • The call-taker needs to ask the basic 4 W's for every call-where, what, who, and when....

Where? This includes more than just the address. An apartment number, floor, suite number, or even the color of your house. Especially important is the nearest intersection, or cross-street, to the address. This makes it easier and quicker for responders to find you.

What? This is the basic "bottom-line" of the call-what is the exact problem? We don't require long descriptions of the events leading up to what is happening, just what the immediate problem is.  Are you in physical danger? Right now? Are there weapons involved? Is there a fire? Or do you just need information or a referral? Also, try to remain as calm as possible; it only makes the process longer if the call-taker is spending time trying to understand an excited or hysterical caller.

Who? This is to identify suspects in crimes, especially if they just left (so responding officers don't drive right past the bad guys!). This means clothing descriptions, names (if known) and last known location or direction of travel.

When? It makes a difference if the incident is occurring right now or happened an hour ago, so a time frame is important.

Depending on what your call is about, the call-taker may need to ask for specific types of information, such as:


  • Suspect and/or vehicle information. This information is relayed to responding officers so they may catch suspects while responding or just arriving.
  • Information about weapons or intoxicated persons, for officer safety.
  • Whether or not you wish to personally speak with the officers.


  • Where the emergency is located.
  • What exactly is burning, and whether or not flames are visible or just a smoke odor.
  • If there are any injuries. NOTE: If safe to do so, leave the burning structure immediately.
  • Be prepared to tell firefighters where any hazards or trapped persons are.



  • Since several fire departments in Saginaw County provide rescue services, dispatchers will verify your address and ask what the symptoms the patient is having. 
  • Your phone call will be transferred to Mobile Medical Response (MMR) to assist you with medical instructions. 
  • The call-taker is always required to ask the caller's name and phone number.
    • This is in case we have to call you back, or the responders need to talk to someone who actually saw what happened.
    • Your call will be handled the same regardless if you choose not to identify yourself.

The call-taker may stay on the line to continue to update information for in-progress incidents or to give you instructions on what to do until help arrives.

The time it takes for a responder to arrive after your call depends on several factors. All calls are given a priority that is based upon the incident type and whether or not the incident is still in progress.

Other factors are weather, how far the unit is from the incident, and how busy the agency is at that time. As a result, calls that are not a high priority may wait until a unit becomes available in that area.

Posting your 9-1-1 address at the driveway entrance and on your home will alleviate any confusion as to whether emergency responders have the correct location. Try using something reflective or illuminated so that it can be seen in the evening as well as during the day.