• Eric Tyler, MD


Can you imagine living in a world where there were individual telephone numbers for sheriff departments and police departments, and ambulance services were run by undertakers? What if those numbers were kept in a thing called a “Telephone Directory” that was frequently hard to find?

That was indeed the reality of my youth in Columbia, Tennessee. There was untold, needless loss of life and property due to the lack of unified community services of those whose noble mission is to serve the public in times of emergency. Can you imagine watching your home burn while standing with injured family members, hopeless and helpless because there was no phone book?

In 1967, this situation was discussed at a Federal level observing that Europe had recently made a “Universal Emergency Phone Number" of 9-9-9. AT&T known back then as, “MA Bell” led the charge. They successfully petitioned Congress resulting in the passage of the legislation making 9-1-1 the Universal Number for all Emergency Services. An Independent Telephone Company located in North Alabama heard of this and turned to the industrious "Alabama Good 'ole Boys" that worked for the companies of old. When challenged with making an emergency circuit like this work, they rose to the occasion beating out AT&T in its set up and implementation.

In February of 1968, the first official 9-1-1 call was made from Montgomery. It was answered by the local Police Department dispatcher using the first “Red Telephone”. That was for the politicians to get publicity. According to a native of Haleyville, on the first day of implementation, the Sheriff told the Boys that that their phone was only for "bonafide medical EE-mergencies - no exceptions". Soon thereafter, the phone rang. The dispatcher side of the conversation went like this:

“911, what is your emergency?”

“Now, slow down, what happened?”

“Woman, this is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY line. There ain’t no plumbers here.”

His buddies asked him about the call.

He replied, "A woman called and said her water broke and what should she do? I told her to call a plumber."

The universal emergency system has grown since then in many ways. Much of the general population is now trained in CPR. Each one of us has a chance to save a life. There are folks walking the streets returning to intact homes right now because of its success.

The depression of 2007 has had a major impact on our country. There are social emergencies involving health, loss after fires, relationships gone wrong, and inadequate funding for essentials like power for homes. Until about 2008, individuals had to know the numbers of the right contacts in order to access aid.

The United Way organization in our community has for years served as a unifying structure for agencies charged with helping to meet the needs of Social Emergencies. Those agencies take their missions seriously. They work tirelessly using mostly volunteer staff and shoestring budgets to meet as many needs as possible. In 2017, they served over 25,000 people.

In the last 10 years, the United Way has developed a “Universal Social Emergency Hotline Number 2-1-1”. Anyone can call. The zip code of the home location will connect the caller with local resources. If you have, or are made aware of, a social emergency, give 2-1-1 a call. They will be able to connect you with local resources to meet your specific needs. You can also reach help accessing www.211.org on your computer or smartphone.

We have come a long way In Fifty Years. We must be grateful to the First Responders whether they serve 9-1-1 or 2-1-1. If you wanted to help out, The United Way always can use volunteers and financial support.

They may be reached at 256-329-3600. You can be directed as to how you can do your part in making a difference in a life here as well.

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