Pardon this very off topic rant, but this is something that irritates me to know end.
I was reading up on the Washington state NRA license plate bill, when I noticed an ad sponsored by King County to remind citizens to use 911 responsibly. What does that even mean beyond the obvious stories of idiots?
I pose the question because I’ve had several questionable experiences with 911 over the course of my life, and I try to do the right thing.
One of the first times that I had problems with 911 was when I encountered a massive car fire on the Beltway in Virginia. I slowed down, but continued on to my exit which was very near the fire. I called 911. I had to call six times before I didn’t get a busy signal. When I didn’t get a busy signal, I was told to hold, had to wait through several messages, then I finally had it ring three more times before I got an operator. It’s a damn good thing I saw the people from the car on the side of the road watching their car go up in flames instead of actually trapped in the car. By this time, there were still no emergency vehicles on the scene. In theory, that was an emergency. In practice, the operator acted quite annoyed with the fact that I was reporting a massive vehicle fire on a major commuting route.
Another time, I called the regular operator after discovering I had been shorted change by a Delaware tollbooth worker just as I pulled away. I tried to get the number to the relevant agency, and was finally transferred. After insisting that I was clearly mistaken and was making outrageous charges against their top notch employees, they told me I needed to call 911. It was $10 that I will (giving the benefit of the doubt) assume was mistakenly not included with my change because I paid in an unexpectedly high denomination. I was irritated, but not ready to scream that it was a criminal emergency. They absolutely refused to take my report, and insisted this was a 911 matter. I called 911, apologized, and explained that I was told to call by a state agency even though it was not a life threatening emergency. They actually said that the agency was correct! What the heck? Why is 911 handling these sorts of complaints? So, I gave them the information, and they took it down. A couple of months later, I received a check for $10 from Delaware. I would have rather they kept the $10 and reconsidered appropriate use of emergency numbers.
Various other times, I’ve been told to call in order to report debris in the road and other things. I thought that was the purpose for non-emergency numbers to law enforcement and other related agencies. Apparently, I am mistaken.
So, I guess my question for King County and readers who work in this field, what exactly is responsible use of 911? When there are “flames shooting into the sky” emergencies, I’m treated like it’s burden to answer the phone, and when it’s not, I’m greeted with enthusiastic operators ready to chase down my $10 like there’s no tomorrow.