Non-emergencies a problem for 911 dispatchers

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Calling 911 is not something you WANT to do, because those numbers only get dialed when it's a life or death situation - at least that's how it's supposed to work.

From a broken oven to overgrown shrubs, dispatchers deal with all sorts of calls that waste their precious time, especially now that more people have cell phones in their pockets.

"Someone recently called to ask, 'Why hasn't the mail passed yet,' which is totally not an emergency," East Baton Rouge EMS spokesman Mike Chustz said. "And, not only is it not an emergency, we don't know the answers to those things."

911 is designated for real, serious, life-threatening emergencies, and all EMS dispatchers are certified paramedics. Chustz said many people try to use 911 for general information.

"I have a question," one recent caller was recorded saying. "Does the surgery center on Bluebonnet, do they have an after hours place?"

"I do not know," the dispatcher responded. "You might have to look up their number and call them directly."

Of the 30,000 911 calls the EBR center gets every month, Chustz estimates about 25 percent are not real emergencies. That's more than 7,000 calls a month that put an unnecessary burden on the system.

"Sometimes when the call volume is high during rush hour in the morning, rush hour in the afternoon, we don't want our dispatchers distracted giving people directions when they may have somebody on the other line trying to get through with a heart attack or bad car accident," Chustz explained.

Other notable examples from around the country include a woman complaining that McDonald's is out of chicken nuggets, a man asking for the score of a local basketball game, and a woman who locked her keys inside her car.

Another common non-emergency call to 911 is from people wanting a ride.

"Recently, we received a 911 call from a gentleman who requested us to pick him up and bring him to AutoZone to get parts to repair his vehicle," Chustz recalled.

Children account for a significant number of nuisance calls to 911, especially when parents let kids play with old cell phones. Even a deactivated phone can still dial 911.

"When we get a child on the phone, that takes a lot of time to determine if it is or if it is not an emergency," Chustz said.

Police departments have non-emergency numbers that also connect you with a dispatcher when you need help but it's NOT an emergency. Call these numbers when you need assistance but it's NOT a life-threatening emergency:

Baton Rouge Police: (225) 389-2000

EBR Sheriff's Office: (225) 389-5000

EBR Public Works hotline: 311 or (225) 389-3090

OLOL LakeLine Direct: (225) 765-LAKE (5253) or toll free 877-765-5253

National Poison Control Center: 800-222-1222

Livingston Sheriff's Office: (225) 686-2241

Ascension Sheriff's Office: (225) 621-8300

West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office: (225) 343-9234

Iberville Sheriff's Office: (225) 687-5100

Pointe Coupee Sheriff's Office: (225) 638-5400

West Feliciana Sheriff's Office: (225) 635-3241

East Feliciana Sheriff's Office: (225) 683-3313

St. Helena Sheriff's Office: (225) 222-4413

St. James Sheriff's Office: (225) 562-2200

St. Mary Sheriff's Office: (337) 828-1960 or (985) 384-1622

Our Lady of the Lake Hospital offers a free service called LakeLine Direct that puts you in touch with a nurse 24/7. That number is (225) 765-LAKE (5253) or toll free 877-765-5253.

East Baton Rouge parish government operates a 3-1-1 call center that answers general questions about city services, including animal complaints, trash & debris pickup, road & traffic signal problems and much more. Simply call 311 or (225) 389-3090.

Abusing the 911 system can result in a misdemeanor charge and officials do prosecute people who repeatedly call without actual emergencies.

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