9-1-1 cell phone callers beware: Unless county is stated, location search may be wrong
Kathryn Finegan Clark
Bucks County residents who live along the Delaware River or in communities adjacent to other counties should say, “I’m calling from Bucks County,” when they make 9-1-1 calls from a cell phone, according to a county emergency official.
“It could save lives,” said Audrey Kenny, deputy director of Bucks County’s 9-1-1 Services, based in Ivyland.
A case in point is this one:
A family whose home burned to the ground on County Line Road in Williams Township just north of Bucks County on Jan. 17 had to run to a neighbor to report the blaze because their own phone lines were in flames. Someone at the neighbor’s house placed a 9-1-1 call on a cell phone.
That call was picked up by a cell tower across the river in New Jersey’s Hunterdon County. Valuable time was lost when the call was then relayed to Northampton County and Williams Township.
“That delayed our response by maybe five minutes,” said Chief Jeff Murray of the Williams Township Fire Co.
“It may have been enough to make a difference in the outcome,” the fire chief said. No lives were lost but a home was destroyed. That might have been prevented had the caller simply said, “I’m calling from Northampton County.”
An emergency call placed on a cell phone could cause that same kind of delay for anyone calling for help from communities along Bucks County’s borders as well as along the river, said Kenny, who lives in Riegelsville, one of the riverside towns.
A number of 9-1-1 cell calls from the Durham-Riegelsville area tend to go to Northampton County Radio or New Jersey centers, Kenny said. “There’s not an abundance of towers in that rural area,” she added.
The neighboring 9-1-1 centers will transfer the call to Bucks County, but the time it takes to figure out the actual location, transfer the call and then repeat the information about the incident could make a difference in saving someone's life, Kenny said.
Calls from communities along the river and those bordering Philadelphia, Montgomery and Lehigh counties, all of which share boundaries with Bucks, may face a similar fate. Stating "I'm calling from Bucks County" at the outset will greatly reduce any delay in getting people the help they need.
Identifying the caller’s location is only necessary for cell phone calls. A landline call to 9-1-1 will ensure the call is automatically routed to the proper call center, Kenny said.
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