Taking Action: How to help 911 centers help you

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT)-- When you need to call 911, it can be because of a scary situation.

But a special group of people are on the line for those in need. This week celebrates them: April 10-16 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

In honor of those who help us when we need it most, WHNT News 19 is taking action to see what the public can do to help them. We spoke with Ron Byrd, a 911 call taker at the Huntsville-Madison County 911 Center. He said people typically call 911 once in their life, and gave us insight into what you need to know should the time come for you or your family.

"We are going to ask a lot of questions," he said.

These questions range from where you are (a location is something they'll verify several times, he said), whether you are in immediate danger, whether weapons are involved in the situation you're dealing with, and what your name is. This allows them call the right kind of help for you.

"We want to know who, what, when, where, and how," he said, indicating that you should not bombard a 911 caller with information but answer the questions as they're asked. "It's very important to listen to the call taker and to answer the questions specifically, that they're asking."

He said 911 operators will stay on the line even after they forward incidents on to dispatchers for various agencies, in an effort to collect further information. "We ask additional details to relay to the officer or the medics or the firefighters in the field," he said, "but it's not necessarily slowing down response."

Location is paramount to 911 call takers, said Byrd, telling WHNT News 19 another way to help dispatchers is to be aware of your surroundings.

"We can't help you if we don't know where you're at," he explained.

Another tip: remain calm. He knows it's hard, especially when you're seeing something or involved in something traumatic, but your information is important. It's increasingly so, when what you're going through is scary or painful.

Call takers say they often get calls from young children, dialing 911 by accident. Another way to help public safety telecommunicators is to keep phones away from toddlers and babies who may want to play with them. Not only could this become a hassle, but it may also tie up lines for true emergencies.

Byrd said it's a hard, but worthwhile job to answer calls in a 911 center.

"It's one of the biggest rewards of the job," he explained, "to know that you're helping people and making a real difference in their lives."

"When I first took this job we were told, you never see people at their best. You always see them at their worst. But that's not necessarily true," he said. "A lot of the callers who call in are on the scene of a serious accident and they're trying to help somebody out who's in need. So we don't just see people at their worst, we also see them at their best."

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