When an emergency, such as a fire occurs, it's easy to become panicked and confused.

When an emergency, such as a fire occurs, it's easy to become panicked and confused.

As a result, many 9-1-1 calls made to emergency dispatchers are often not complete, thus hindering the fire department's ability to arrive quickly to the scene.

By knowing what to expect when you call 9-1-1 and making a few simple preparations, you can steer clear of the common mistakes people make when they place an emergency phone call.

* Keep the 9-1-1 number posted on every telephone in your house and ask neighbors to do the same. Make the call from inside your home only if you are trapped.

Otherwise, get out, report to your family's agreed upon meeting place, and call the fire department from a neighbor's phone or cell phone.

* Speak clearly and calmly. Give the dispatcher the location of the emergency and a brief description of the incident you are reporting.

Be prepared to answer questions such as location, address, name, and telephone number. Stay on the phone until you have answered all the dispatcher's questions and he or she says it's OK to hang up.

Help is being dispatched at the same time the call taker is continuing to gather additional information.

If your call is a medical emergency, the dispatcher will provide pre-arrival medical instructions telling you what to do before medics arrive.

* Do not program 9-1-1 into your phone. It is too easy to accidentally call the number. If you dial 9-1-1 in error, DO NOT hang up.

With the enhanced 9-1-1 features in our area, the caller's address and telephone number is automatically identified for the dispatcher's reference.

Instead, stay on the line and let the dispatcher know you made a mistake. Otherwise he/she will send emergency crews to your address and needlessly tie up resources from real emergencies.

* If you use a cell phone to place an emergency call, the dispatcher receives your call back number and the approximate location from which you are calling.

It is imperative that you stay on the line and tell the dispatcher the exact location of the emergency.

* Make sure your house number is displayed with large numbers (at least four inches high) in a contrasting color that can be seen easily from the road.

If your home is situated far off the road, be sure your driveway is well marked with your street address.

* Share with your children and family members that making false emergency calls as a joke is a crime that costs lives.

False alarms tie up emergency telephone lines and endanger emergency personnel driving to the scene.

* Once emergency personnel arrive, ensure they have current medical information for your family at their disposal by posting on your refrigerator a Vial of Life form for each member of your family.

The Vial of Life form, if completed and kept current, can provide valuable information (medical history, medications, emergency contacts, doctor's names etc.) that will help paramedics expedite emergency medical treatment and/or transition to a physician's care.

Vial of Life forms are available on the Township's web site, www.wtwp.com, or by request at 652-3920.

They are especially helpful when the person in need of medical care cannot speak or isn't old enough to be able to provide the necessary information, or when by-standers or family members are panicked or confused and have difficulty remembering all the details paramedics need.

Washington Township Fire Department Fire Marshal Alan Perkins submitted the Smoke Signals column.