Fire Prevention 52: In Case of Emergency Call...?

By Eric Anderson, Structural Fire Training Specialist
glen canyon fire engine

Know How To Call for Help

Just as our park units vary greatly in size, remoteness, and services provided, so do the methods of calling for help in an emergency. While some parks operate full-time 911 dispatch centers, many rely on local municipalities to provide dispatch services emergency responders. It's not important for you to know who will be answering the call, but it is vital that you know how to call for help.

Fires can reach dangerous conditions in minutes. Any delay in dispatching emergency responders can result in additional loss of life or property. So make sure you know the correct way to call for help at work and home. Post the phone numbers on or near each phone. Inform new employees. Inform guests staying at your residence.

Be aware that many parks and other remote locations will have areas where there is no cell signal. Consider what you would do if you had an emergency in one of these areas.

Fire Info for You

When people are phoning in an emergency, they may not know where they are, particularly visitors and new employees. Have questions prepared ahead of time to help you identify the caller's location.

Park Structural Fire Coordinators
Does your park have a clear dispatch or notification policy? Not only does each park need an agreement with responding fire departments, they should also have a clearly understood process for requesting assistance. Do employees call 911 or the local department directly or park dispatch? Ensure this information is known.

Take Action

  1. Identify the correct number to call for emergency services from your workplace and home.
  2. Post the number on or beside each phone.
  3. If you have children at home, teach them how to dial 911 or a preprogrammed number if 911 doesn't function where you live.
red historic fire alarm box outside on a telephone pole.

NPS Fire Facts

The methods for notifying emergency responders have changed greatly throughout history. Ringing bells used to summon a community to respond to assist their neighbors in need. The first municipal fire alarm system in the world, using a "box alarm" or pull station with a telegraph notification system to alert the fire department, went into service on April 29, 1852, in Boston, Massachusetts.

These systems became very common in towns and cities, and though most have been removed, they are still in limited use in some cities, as well as a few of our national parks. History does indeed live on in our parks!

These boxes have a pull handle that sends a signal to a monitoring or dispatch center; they often function in a power outage or where there is no cell coverage. During a recent blizzard, the city of Boston notified residents that the box alarm system should be used in the event of an emergency if cell and landline phones were not in operation.

Last updated: October 28, 2016