Most people know to call 911 during an emergency but what if you’re not sure it’s an emergency? When should you call 911 or when should you call the Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number? Lt. Lee Peters of the Stafford Sheriff’s Office Emergency Communications Center takes the guesswork out for you – if it’s life-threatening, call 911; otherwise call non-emergency at (540) 658-4450.
“We want to encourage people to call 911 when it’s an immediate need – if a life is in danger or law enforcement is needed,” said Lt. Peters. “If you feel like you are in danger or you need to report a crime, or even if you just need to report something but don’t know the non-emergency number, call 911.”
What happens when you call 911? An operator will answer and say, “Stafford County 911, what’s the address of your emergency?” Lt. Peters says this is a crucial question to answer quickly and correctly, before even telling the operator your emergency. You might be unable to talk later or your phone might drop the call. If the dispatchers know where you are, they can immediately send someone to help you no matter what else happens.
Next, the operators will start asking questions about your emergency so they can assign the appropriate assets to you. They go through a year’s worth of specialized training to learn emergency communications and are trained to ask questions in a specific order to better take care of callers. For instance, if you report that someone is not breathing, they can give you instructions over the phone to help mitigate the circumstances until emergency services arrive on the scene.
Emergency operators will stay on the phone with you until help arrives in most cases. If it’s a minor fender bender, they might give you pre-arrival instructions and disconnect. However, they will always ask a caller if they are comfortable disconnecting.
What happens if a child accidentally calls 911? No worries. Lt. Peters says we teach children from an early age to call 911 for help. They use these opportunities to respond and inform children about 911 while making new community connections.
The Emergency Communications Center takes 911 calls and non-emergency calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. What types of calls come in to the non-emergency line: after-hours Utilities calls; crime reports like fraud or speeding; or anything not involving a life-threatening situation. Lt. Peters emphasizes that no one should be afraid to call 911 or the non-emergency number.
Lt. Peters said the Sheriff’s Office welcomes visitors to tour the Emergency Communications Center. To arrange a tour, call Lt. Peters at (540) 658-4972. They are always looking for dispatchers/operators. To view open positions, please visit the Employment page of www.staffordcountyva.gov.