A basketball up a tree or a coffee shop that won’t refill your cup are not emergencies.
But that didn’t stop hundreds of Lower Mainland residents from inappropriately dialing 911 in 2015 to report similar crises, according to a top 10 list of most outrageous calls released by E-Comm, southwest B.C.’s emergency communications centre.
Other ridiculous calls that had 911 dispatchers scratching their heads were “My roommate used my toothbrush” and “My son won’t put his seatbelt on.”
E-Comm spokesperson Jody Robertson said too many people can’t be bothered to look up the phone number they really need – be that a police non-emergency line or in the case of the top bozo call of 2015, the number for a local tire dealership.
Robertson said such calls come in “every single day” and take up the time of 911 call takers, creating the potential for delays in responding to real life-and-death emergencies.
“When I see a call come in to 911 where someone says ‘This isn’t an emergency, what’s the non-emergency number?’ it says to me somebody knows what their situation is and it’s perplexing that they’d dial 911,” she said. “Just using the internet to do a quick search would be really beneficial.”
Calls that should instead go to a police non-emergency line include cases where shoppers come out of a mall to find their car broken into hours earlier with no suspect in sight.
A true emergency is a police, fire or medical situation that requires immediate action because someone’s health, safety or property is in jeopardy or a crime is in progress.
“The calls on our top 10 list don’t belong on our non-emergency line or the emergency line either.”
Nor can E-Comm staff instantly disconnect calls that initially appear to be trivial. Call takers have to be alert to scenarios where a caller feels threatened by someone in earshot and is speaking in code or otherwise concocting a story to hide the fact they’ve dialed 911.
“We are trained to ask questions in case a caller is in distress and can’t speak freely,” E-Comm call taker Harrison Kwan said. “It’s only when I’m completely satisfied that the call is not a real emergency that I can disconnect and go back to answering other 911 calls. And that takes time.”
E-Comm’s top 10 reasons not to call 911 for 2015:
- Requesting the number for a local tire dealership
- Reporting an issue with a vending machine
- Asking for the non-emergency line
- Because a car parked too close to theirs
- “My son won’t put his seatbelt on”
- Coffee shop is refusing to refill coffee
- Asking if it’s okay to park on the street
- “My roommate used my toothbrush”
- Asking for help getting a basketball out of a tree
- Reporting that their building’s air system is too loud and they can’t sleep