Disengaging 911

Image of 911 emergency logo About five years ago, as we drove east on the 174 heading out of Ottawa, we witnessed part of an unsecured load being jettisoned from the back of a half ton truck. The driver, seemingly oblivious to the debris strewn across the highway from his payload, showed no sign of slowing or stopping. We managed to avoid a large cardboard box, contents unknown, however it seemed apparent to me that any one of the numerous vehicles to follow might be less fortunate. Recognizing the very real danger this mishap posed, I called 911 to inform them of the situation. They thanked me and indicated an officer would be dispatched to the scene.

I've always been of the view that the 911 service SHOULD be used any time a member of the public is placed in a dangerous situation, howsoever caused. Referring quickly to the 911.org website, the reader is advised that "if you are ever in doubt of whether a situation is an emergency you should call 9-1-1" anyways. Determining what may, or may not, be an emergency, at least to some degree, is subjective. If a huge mothering sink hole suddenly appeared in the middle of ths street and the road disappeared I would make the assumption that the situation warranted an emergency situation. If, on the other hand, Mrs. Mackenzie's cat climbed up a tree, despite what may have been depicted in the movies, it would not even occur to me to call 911 and have the fire department summoned to rescue Mittens, Muffy, Fluffy or whatever the fuck Mrs. Mackenzie calls her pussy.

It was, what I believed to be good judgement, a rational reason when I called 911 on Christmas Eve. While on our way to brunch, we came upon a traffic light signal at a very busy intersection which was hanging tenuously by a single thin wire. The light, not functioning, was not only hanging by a single wire, but was swinging around violently on a very windy day. (It was most likely the strong winds which had dislodged the traffic light in the first place.) My significant other commented "Oh my God, if that light lets go and falls on someone, it could kill them!". Now I have no idea how much a traffic light weighs, but I had to agree with her: they certainly look large and heavy enough to, if dropped from a height of 25 or 30 feet, kill someone. And being tossed about like a doily in a hurricane certainly made its battle against gravity seemed meagre at best. There was no doubt in my mind that it was a matter that must be dealt with by municipal workers but, in the interim, and to address the immediate danger posed by the looming peril, I felt it was something best handled by police insofar as they would be able to control vehicular and pedestrian traffic until the situation was corrected.

I was a bit surprised when the 911 operator, an extremely curt woman, informed me that I shouldn't be calling 911 for such things and that it was a "city matter". My immediate concern, I explained, was in rectifying what I perceived as a *very* dangerous situation; a matter that could most easily be dealt with by dispatching a traffic officer to the scene until municipal workers arrived. "Sir, sir", she interrupted, "you have to call the city." I told her that I did not have to do a damned thing, that I perceived a dangerous situation and that I would sleep fine that evening if someone was injured or killed and they had failed to act. Somewhere in the midst of my repartee, she hung up.

Since it would appear that I'm totally incapable of subjectively judging when it's appropriate to call 911, I've taken the last week to ponder my alternatives for disengaging 911. If I see a man entering a bank with a gun I shall henceforth call the Ministry of Natural Resources. Quite obviously, it's not a police matter as he's clearly hunting without a license. Should I hear gunshots from within the bank, I'll call the city bylaw enforcement: clearly, a noise violation. And if there's a car double-parked outside the bank parking control it is.

If I notice an unattended knapsack in a crowded bus station, wires protruding and attached to a digital clock counting down, I'll be sure to report it to the lost and found. I certainly wouldn't want to trouble the folks at 911 over something as trivial as a benign handbag. Addicts in the park mainlining smack? Definitely a call to the Canadian Pharmacists Association to report the questionable dispensing practices of professionals. And if I chance upon shady characters unloading large screen televisions at a price too good to be true out of the back of a van I'll be sure to call the city. Anyone selling electronics that cheap likely doesn't have a business license.

Will I ever call 911 again? Yes, but it will be when I need the police, ambulance or fire department. If someone else needs them, they can call themselves... a task which might prove challenging for someone looking at a knife, tightly clutching their chest before collapsing or engulfed in flames. Clearly, I'm not able to determine when public safety is being jeopardised. Sadly, I feel compelled to disengage 911.

Submitted by "Big Banana" Bob Loblaw, 31 December 2015