911 vs. Non-Emergency: When To Call For Help

Which of these situations do you call 911 for?

  1. Your relative is complaining of chest pains
  2. You’ve spotted a snake crawling around in your bathroom
  3. The neighbors are too loud
  4. You’re in a car accident

The answers are 1 and 4! Did you guess correctly?

Chest pains are a medical emergency. If someone is having chest pains, it could be a sign of a heart attack or other serious health event. Calling 911 allows the victim to quickly and effectively get help.

Other medical conditions that warrant a 911 call include:

  • Bleeding that will not stop
  • Breathing problems
  • Chest pain
  • Choking
  • Coughing up blood
  • A head or spinal injury
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
  • Upper abdominal pain or pressure
  • A sudden change in mental status, like sudden confusion
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts

Since a car accident can cause serious injuries, like head or spinal injuries, it might also be considered a medical emergency. However, even an accident with no injuries is still a reason to call 911. Calling 911 puts the accident on record, and can be used later during any insurance or legal disputes.

There are some also other non-medical reasons to call 911, including

  • In-progress crimes
  • Suspicious people or vehicles
  • Domestic disturbances or fights
  • People with weapons
  • Fires

So what about the scary snake or the annoying neighbors?

Since these aren’t emergencies, you can call a non-emergency line. While you might not get a response quite as quickly, someone will still be available to guide you through the situation, and can direct you to another number or local agency, like animal control.

If a situation is not an emergency, calling a non-emergency line frees up the operators so they can deal with people who are having a true emergency, like a heart attack. When you call 911 over a non-emergency, you are taking valuable time away from people who actually need it. Think about how you would feel if someone was having a medical emergency, and you were unable to get through to the 911 dispatcher!

If you are not sure if someone is an emergency, it’s okay to call 911. You can’t be faulted for not knowing what to do — that’s exactly why 911 is there! But before you call 911 about a parking ticket, a missing bike, or annoying neighbor, consider if it’s a real emergency.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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