911 Services Celebrate 50th Anniversary


Friday marked an important day in the history of First Responders. Fifty years ago, the first 911 call was made.

The universal emergency line has undergone a lot of changes since then, from the way dispatchers gather information, to even providing medical help over the phone.

“Now, it’s just three numbers you can access,” said Rockford Fire Dept. Chief Derek Bergsten.

911. The number has been dialed about 650 times a day in Rockford.   Alabama Senator Rankin Fite made the first 911 call on this day back in 1968.

“Having the anniversary today, when the first call was place in Alabama, really signifies how far we’ve come with technology,” said Bergsten.

Before 911, getting help required callers to dial seven or even as many as 10 numbers.  Those precious seconds could make all the difference, but with the development of cell phones, it creates another obstacle for dispatchers to overcome.

“Before, when you had your landline, you had an exact address,” said Bergsten.  “Now, 80 percent of our 911 calls are from cellular phones. We changed our questions about five years ago from ‘what is your emergency?’ to ‘where is your emergency?”

Rockford’s dispatch center has 43 dispatchers answering calls.

“As soon as they hang up that 911 call, the next one is ringing,” said Bergsten.

In the early days of  911, dispatchers simply needed to determine the nature of an emergency, who to send, and where.  Now, they’re medically trained to help walk callers through an emergency, such as CPR or bleeding control.

“Training has definitely increased from what it used to be and we ask a lot of them to provide that medical assistance,” said Bergsten.  “They will stay on the phone until the paramedics and firefighters arrive. They’re the first line of public safety of anyone has when they dial 911.”

While 911 operators are always standing by whenever someone needs help, Bergsten says it’s important people only call with a real emergency.

“There’s only three reasons why you should call 911,” said Bergsten.  “If there’s a fire, a crime in progress or medical emergency.  Anything else still use 10-digit non-emergency number because that keeps the 911 lines open.”
The Dispatch Board will be purchasing new equipment within the next year and will have texting capacity.  It’s another form of emergency communication the fire dispatch board is considering.

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